In search of her family’s genealogy in St. Clair, an Los Angeles woman decided to write a dissertation on Missouri’s history.

Mariko Pegs spoke to The Missourian about her family tree and her project on African American women. Her St. Clair roots stem from grandmother’s side of the family. She was born in St. Clair. 

As a child, Pegs said she remembered her father and his siblings talk about a man named Isaac Renfro often, who also lived in St. Clair in the 1800s.

“In 2007, I just told my sisters, ‘Let’s go and see what this legend is all about,’ ” she said. 

“I’ve always been the family historian. I’ve always been the one to document things.”

Since 2007, Pegs has been visiting St. Clair and surrounding areas for her family tree research. 

She and her sisters started their search at the St. Clair Historical Museum. They met Margie and Jack Roberts, who were familiar with the name Isaac Renfro. 

Jack Roberts contacted someone who not only turned out to be Pegs’ cousin, but they both may have been related to Isaac Renfro.

“We found out that we were related to the same Isaac Renfro and fast-forward to 2017, I’ve to their family reunions,” she said.

Pegs said Renfro is a distant grandfather of her family, who was found in archives in Jefferson City.

“A couple of years ago, I realized that this is something that I’m really passionate about,” she said.

Dissertation

Pegs is in her fifth year of earning her Ph.D. in African American and African Diaspora studies at the University of California Berkeley. Her undergraduate degree is in history from the University of California Los Angeles.

Since coming to St. Clair, she decided to focus her dissertation on learning more about African Americans in Franklin County and in Missouri. 

Her project will of consist looking at how African-American women sought to affirm their citizenship right after emancipation between 1865-1900.

Pegs noted she is looking for examples of unknown women who made claims that they were not paid for their work because they had to ability to obtain citizenship.

It was searching in the archives in Jefferson City regarding  distant grandfather that she became interested in women in the post-emancipation era.

“I found a particular woman and I became interested in her story,” Pegs said.

The woman was Agnes Evans, who also lived in St. Clair. Pegs said she is using her as a case study to learn more claims she made in a probate case. 

She noted that Renfro and Evans probably knew each other. 

“I don’t have a whole lot of information on her story right now. I just have a few fragments of information and I’m sort of trying to figure out what happened,” Pegs said.

She also searching for other women to examine who were from the county.

“I’m really interested in the culture of Franklin County and the ways that African Americans experienced life after emancipation,” Pegs said.

“What’s really interesting about Missouri, for me, is that it was a border state.

“And so you have both the north and south sensitivities or ideologies, or ways of thinking about slavery. And what was right and what wasn’t right,” she said.

Pegs mentioned that there were many African-American women in Missouri who contributed to U.S. history. 

She mentioned the State of Missouri v. Celia, a slave case, which was a murder trial in 1855 held in Callaway County. 

An enslaved woman named Celia was tried for first-degree murder of her owner Robert Newsom, who was abusive. 

The people who have helped Pegs in her family genealogy and research in St. Clair have been nice and friendly, she said.

“The culture just feels very welcoming,” she said. 

When Pegs is in town, she eats at Lewis Cafe and does her research at the St. Clair Historical Museum. 

The current museum board members have been “so generous with their time and information,” Pegs said. 

She was in the area this  past May doing more research in St. Clair, Union, Washington and Jefferson City. Pegs said she plans to come back to Missouri in January to continue her dissertation research.