top of page
  • Writer's pictureHomestead Cemetery

Local Historian Spotlights Rev. Samuel Giffeney

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

To following article was written by local historian, Daniel Ramseier, and was published in the Valley Mirror on Thursday, August 26, 2021. To view a PDF version of the full article and photos, please click on the download option below.

Tracing Samuel Gipfenney AKA Samuel Giffenney (1843-1911) Through His Death Certificate
Download PD • 2.32MB


The Carnegie Library of Homestead was asked by Mike Tunie about Samuel Giffenney who is buried in the circle of the Soldier’s Monument at Homestead Cemetery (see Find a Grave); Mike had received a message which linked Giffenney to Juneteenth (see Soldier’s Circle Update June 19 & Post-Gazette July 7, 2021, online; Wikipedia entries on Juneteenth).

For their help I thank the librarians at Homestead, Main, and Wilkinsburg, the archivists at City Archives, Heinz, PA State Archives, and National Archives, clerks of Allegheny County Court 7 Realty, Bobbi Bailey, Mark Fallon, Tammy Hepps, Cassie Maas. Rob Ruck, Christine Schott, Aaron McWilliams, Mike Tunie, Liann Tsoukas, Amy Welch, Tina Zins, and Iris Ramos.

Rabbit Holes

Illiteracy, phonetic spelling, and garbled information hinder cross referencing. Rev. James A. Stokes (1841-1923) whose church in Harrisburg is never listed and may have been enslaved (James Stokes Company D; 1850 Georgia Slave Schedule A. Stoks and not Kentucky Allen Stoks; death certificate lists Allen Stoks as father; the 1880 census has a teamster and Harrisburg Directory a driver. Civil War Blog Rev. James A. Stokes).

Samuel Penniman Bates (1827-1901; Wikipedia) published the History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers in five volumes (1869-1871; online). His work is the basis for the various online entries of PA 45h Regiment Colored Troops (USCT) which only partially allow to trace movements of Company B, but by design don’t trace corps assignments.

The muster out roll shows that Samuel Giffenney enlisted on June 2, for three years in the 45th USCT Company B, and mustered out on November 4 1865. His birthplace is listed as Union County, KY, and as enlistment place Wartford, Erie County, PA. The Regimental Descriptive Book lists Gipfeney as a 20-year-old laborer at 5‘9” Black, plus the garbled birthplace of Bradford Township in Clearfield County, PA which was given credit as enlistment place as well. His 1880 and 1910 U.S. Census list Kentucky as birthplace and death certificate Virginia. If he was born in Kentucky, he might have born as a slave or assumed a name and birthplace. Neither the 1850 nor 1860 Slave Schedule lists a Giffenney in Union County or Kentucky (see Lowell H., Slavery in Kentucky: A Civil War Casualty, Kentucky Review 5, 1983, p. 32-41; online).

Diane Ragan’s Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Pennsylvania, personal war sketches of the African American members of Col. Robert G. Shaw Post No. 206, Pittsburgh (2003) is an interesting compilation. Ragan summarized the numerical regimental histories and added the Post members and companies; the 45th Regiment USCP is on page 86 with ten Post members; Giffenney is not listed. It seems that Company B was part of the siege of Petersburg, in the parade of Lincoln’s Second Inauguration (Evening Star (Washington D.C), Sat., March 4, 1865, p. 2), in the Appomattox Campaign (see the inscription of the Soldier’s Monument), and then was moved to Texas from May to June.

The Galveston Daily News advertised the sale of four slaves by the auctioneers J.S. & J.B. Sydnor (April 4, 1865 p. 2 & April 18, p.1) and the ad by John Dozier, Col. Sydnor’s neighbor, offering 585 acres “for sale or exchange of Negroes” (April 21, p. 2), and reported Lee’s surrender on April 9 at Appomattox on the front page (April 18) and mass meeting of citizens and soldiers (April 23, p.2). John Seabrook Sydnor, father of John Barrett (1834-1877), was a slave owner and trader (see Find a Grave), omitted in the obituary of Sallie Garland Sydnor (1842-1904; Galveston Daily New April 15, 1904, p. 8) in the entry of Sydnor by the Texas Historical Society (THSA).

When Sydnor, born in Virginia, was mayor, he built his mansion in 1847 and named it Powhatan (see Wikipedia). The Galveston Garden Club owns the Sydnor Powhatan House since 1965 and dropped the name of Sydnor (see Historical Marker).

The headquarters of General Gordon Granger (1821-1876; see Wikipedia; updated entry by THSA) were in Galveston. The Daily News (June 21, 1865, p.1) printed his General Order no. 3 of June 19, freeing all slaves (see Wikipedia General Order no. 3) and comments (June 28, p. 2).

Slavery, de facto, ended in Galveston on April 23, and de jure on June 20, but when slaves were actually freed, needs to checked by town and county. The articles in the Daily News in 1865 alone reflect the need to make sense of the end of the Confederacy and slavery and shed a light how the Reconstruction was perceived and resisted (see THSA entry).

Directory and Deeds

Samuel Giffenney shortly lived in the Hill District, but mostly in and around Wilkinsburg, aka Homewood (see Pittsburgh Directory from 1869 to 1903 (online); and the 1894 Wilkinsburg Directory, p. 61 1897, p. 67 living on 508 Trenton). The 1880 and 1910 U.S. Census list Kentucky as his birthplace. He bought his first property from Thomas Mellon (1913-1908, see Wikipedia; Deed vol. 228 p. p. 347 (May 25, 1872, indicates that Samuel and Mary Giffenney lived in Pittsburgh at least since 1869. The 1880 U.S. Census lists Samuel and Mary Giffenney on Tioga in Homewood - transcribed by Ancestry as Tisga; later listed as 7323 Tioga - as unemployed for two months and in 1881 Directory (p. 311) working for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR; see Wikipedia entry); it seems that the couple had no children.

In 1890 Giffenney applied for an invalid pension, but is not listed in 1890 Veterans Schedule. Mary Elizabeth Giffenney died in Wilkinsburg on Sep. 29, 1899 due to apoplexy (Homewood Cemetery, Find a Grave; Index to the Registration of Death Allegheny County 1893-1905, 2006, p. 141)

Second Marriage

The marriage license of July 17, 1900 (Allegheny County Marriage Series D no. 7253) lists Samuel Giffenney and the widow Nellie Porson as born in 1858 Maryland in 1858 and living at 1012 Maryland Ave.; her 1900 U.S. Census is garbled - wife is replaced by head - lists her as widowed Parson without children, born 1858 in Maryland, living at 1012 Wylie with 14 roomers. The couple was married by Reverend John Wesley Gazazay (1840-1925; 1900 U.S. Census; Pittsburgh Courier Sep. 13, 1912, p. 4f; Times Recorder June 6, 1925. p. 3)) who was the pastor of the AME Wylie Ave Church, aka Bethel AME, located at 1206 Wylie and Elm.

Giffenney wrote his short will in 1901 in Wilkinsburg (WB 254 vol. 114 p 114; Ancestry; Court) wishing that his debts and funeral costs would be paid in full and leaving his estate to beloved wife Nelia - short for Cornelia? - and named her administrator. No children are listed.

In 1907 the couple bought their property in Hays (Deed vol. 1371 p, 371 Jun 4, 1907). This places Giffenney in vicinity of Homestead from 1907 to 1911.

Death Certificate

The death certificate and obituaries of Samuel Giffenney are garbled (Messenger Aug. 29, 1911; Messenger Aug. 30 & 31, p. 1). It seems that he, one week prior to his death, had some kind of breakdown and was sent to the State Hospital Woodville in Collier Township; Giffenney is listed as minister. The funeral services were moved from Gillen & Coulter, 322 E 8th, to the Clark Memorial Baptist Church on Thirteenth (1912 Homestead Directory p. 28; 1913 Homestead Sanborn Map title page and plate 12; online). G.A. R. Post No. 60 which owned the lot around the Soldier’s Monument buried Giffenney (see Valley Mirror February 22, 2018, p. 12)

The Messenger claimed that the illiterate Giffenney was “one of the best known colored ministers of the Monongahela Valley”. Yet the Pittsburgh Courier did not report on Giffenney’s death. Cumberland Posey (1858- 1925) who owned the Pittsburgh Courier lived in Homestead, but his social life was in the Hill District. The activities of church pastors were well covered in the press, yet Giffenney is never mentioned. Giffenney was married in an AME Church, but eulogized in a Baptist Church.

Giffenney’s properties may have provided income through mortgages or rentals. It seems that he received a pension as a Civil War Veteran, and maybe a PRR pension. In 1912 Nellie Giffenney valued the estate as $1,200 Dollars. She sold the property in 1914 (Deed vol. 1813 p. 53, March 2, 1914). The Pension Index indicates that Nellie Giffenney died in 1918.

Sources and Literature

It is one thing to outline the life of Samuel Giffenney, another to make historical sense and use depending on the questions asked. It may or may not possible to find documentation about his life from 1843 to 1864. One possibility would be to cross reference Black Soldiers born or enlisting in Union County or Kentucky (see Bates, Wikipedia on USCT).

Giffenney’s life in Pittsburgh is relatively well documented, but not in the Pittsburgh newspapers. The Pittsburgh Courier can now be read at Historical Newspapers and ProQuest; the editions from 1913 to 1922 are lost; Marlene Garret Branson compiled the obituaries in ten volumes (Early African death in the Pittsburgh Courier (2011). The Messenger is partially digitized, but not searchable. Historic Pittsburgh has the Homestead Directory (1890-1945) and Hopkins Maps. Penn State has the digital Sanborn Maps of Homestead and the Heinz Center the 1926 edition.

Giffenney may have been a member of Baptist or AME Church, either in the Hill District maybe around 1870 and 1900, or in Wilkinsburg, and most likely in Homestead; church membership lists are hard to come by, and if so, through obituaries. The Golden Jubilee, 1889-1939, of the Clark Baptist Memorial only sketches the church history (Mike Tunie has a digital copy). The publications of Dennis Clark Dickerson are useful (The Black Church in Industrializing Western PA 1870-1950 (online) and Out of the Crucible: Black Steel Workers in Western Pennsylvania, 1875-1980, 1986).

Laurence Glasco edited the flawed WPA history of the Negro in Pittsburgh (2004; online). John Bodnar’s Lives of their own: Blacks, Italian and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900- 1860 (1982) is a questionable combination oral history and cliometrics; Amazon’s Look Inside allows to check Appendix A-C.

At best incomplete, African-American historic survey of Allegheny County (1994; p 198-201) and the companion piece, A legacy in brick and mortar: African-American landmarks in Allegheny County (1995; photos on p. 67-68), edited by Eliza Smith Brown, might be used for reference. Of some interest is Mark Whitaker’s My Long Journey Home (2013) who wrote his family memoir after the death of his father. The sequel, Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance (2018), is his garbled journalistic take on the Black Pittsburgh requiring careful checking (see Wikipedia entry and YouTube clips). Cumberland Posey of the Homestead Grays by James E. Overmyer (2020) can not be recommended; Rob Ruck’s Sandlot Seasons: Sports in Black Pittsburgh (1993) remains the standard work (see his web site, documentary and YouTube clips), he is currently the biography of Mal Goode (1908-1995; see Wikipedia entry).

The Homestead Cemetery, which opened in 1886, has about 15,000 graves. The defunct Mifflin Township Historical Society transcribed Burial Ledger 2, circa 5,000 names, and Christine Burial Ledger 1. She is still taking grave photos and willing to answer burial inquiries (

Mary Elizabeth “Bettie” Cole’s Their Story: The History of Black/Africans in Sewickley & Edgeworth. Sewickley, (2000) is an interesting attempt of oral history (1923-2016; see Gazette Aug. 6, 2006, p. 92-94 and Aug. 4, 2002; Tribune and Sewickley Herald Jan. 26, 2016, Find A Grave); Sewickley Black History Self-Guided-Tour). Homestead Hebrews by Tammy Hepps could be used a template for Black Homestead, especially the map section.

71 views0 comments


bottom of page