Sunday, May 1, 2016

And one clue leads to another

I hate it when I look at trees on and they are incorrect because someone took one factoid and decided it was correct without checking. I confess I was guilty of this myself when I first started out rooting my tree. All the more reasons why I hate it now in others.

I am fairly certain that Josiah Pridgen is my 2xgreat grandmother's father. However, I still put the question mark on my tree. The DNA doesn't lie but there are so many ancestors out there after you pass the first great grandfather, I rather err on the side of caution.

Still, that clue has led me to another clue. On Mary Jane Roberts' sister's death certificate, it is stated that the sister was born in Cherokee, Alabama in 1866. This makes me more certain that Grandma Jane was also born in Cherokee and closer to being 100% certain  Pridgeon is the father. Even more exciting is that the informant included the maiden name of Jane's mother. It was "Spince." Eureka! I have a surname for Judie.

When I looked at Josiah Pridgen's family tree, I noticed he married Mary Lou Spence in 1842. Spence! On the 1850 slave schedule, Josiah owns one slave, a young girl around 12 years old. I think this was Judie, Jane's mother. It means she was born before the marriage took place likely on the Spence grounds

Unfortunately, the trail seems to end there. For now. I am just beginning to look for more. I'm sure something will turn up. That's what makes genealogy such a nerdy joy. The games afoot!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

DNA Detective

I always feel guilty when I look at how long it has been since I posted here. Even though it's been a while, I am still researching, although not as obsessively as I have in the past. For example, I still check my ancestry dna matches every month.

So far most of my matches are distant but my maternal uncle who also took the test had a match that was close, a 3rd to 4th cousin. I checked out the match and looked at the 2x grandparents that my uncle may share with the match. One name stood out because of the location where this person lived. I had never heard this name before--Josiah Pridgen--but he died in Cherokee, Alabama.

My maternal 2xgrandmother Mary Jane Roberts Koonce was born in Alabama. The oral legend claimed that her father was white and her mother was native American-Cherokee. It also claimed that she and her mother came to Tennessee during the Trail of Tears.

That part about the Trail of Tears is wrong because she was born after that infamous trail.  But is it possible that the legend got twisted? Could she have actually lived in and/or be from Cherokee, Alabama?

I checked the 1860 slave schedule for Josiah and he had three slaves who matched my family's ages--
Julie, Jane and the oldest son Joseph--and they were all designated mulatto! Could Josiah be the missing link for the Roberts’ family?

I put it aside for a minute but today I checked my dna matches again. I searched Josiah Pridgen again. He was born in 1812 in North Carolina. His parents were Joel Pridgen and Elizabeth Richardson. In searching for Josiah, the name Zilly Pridgen and Reuben Bachelor were in the results. I searched my dna matches to see if Bachelor or Pridgen came up and hit pay dirt. Through deduction and dna matches, I am certain that Josiah Pridgen is my 3x great grandfather.

Add to that there is a resemblance between Josiah's son Milton and my grandmother Mary Jane especially around the noses.  Or is that just wishful thinking? Photos aside, according to the DNA, I am related to the Pridgen family.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Race, Ethnicity and Other Bugaboos

I have been silent about racism. There has been so much chatter about it, I didn't want to litter the web with more. And this blog is supposed to be more about ancestry than social issues. But I did name the sub-title of my blog "Genealogy in Black and White" for a reason. So. . .

I believe the conversation about racism should begin with the fact that "race" is a myth. Race is a social concept not a biological one. I was not upset that Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane president of the NAACP, identified herself as black. Neither am I upset that Jennifer Beals identifies herself as white. We are different colors and hues. We have different types of noses and mouths and hair. All those things can be altered artificially. And we all belong to different cultural and sub-cultural groups.We can adopt different practices and habits, interchange them. They are not set in stone. So I wish the conversation could begin as "we are all the same and all different,"

As far as ethnicity goes, maybe we're so into hyphens in this country because we're so mixed up. Everyone comes from somewhere else except for the native Americans.  My own DNA test results said my heritage was mostly African, but nearly one third was made up of European. There was also traces of Asian and Amerindian. I chose not to identify myself as African-American even before I got those results. First, I don't like hyphens anyway. I am American by birth. Period. And even though I claim I'm Black, I'm really more of a caramel color.

Anyone from Africa, regardless of their color or hue, who becomes a citizen here could use the designation of African-American. Very few people call themselves European-American. They identify a country instead of a continent. Because of my slavery heritage, I don't know which African country to declare, although 26% of my DNA, the highest percentage, is from a Nigerian ancestor. But then 19% of my DNA, the second highest percentage, came from an Irishman.

I believe when we get around to talking, after beginning with "we are all the same." we should next say  there is no difference that makes one a "real" American or "true" American more than another person. Born, raised or immigrated, we the People are ALL Americans.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Say Their Name

Recently it was leaked that Ben Affleck asked Henry Louis Gates to conceal the fact on "Finding Your Roots" that Afflect had slave holding ancestors in his family tree. Affleck said he was "embarrassed" by this. Some people have criticized him for this. Others have commiserated with him. The thing is, if your American fore-bearers go back to the 18th and even 19th century, chances are some of them were slave holders.

I understand that this may be embarrassing for some. In the course of researching my ancestors, I have run across many embarrassing skeletons in my own  genealogical closet. Life is messy. It is impossible for anyone to have a squeaky clean legacy no matter how much we wish.

My main issue with Affleck's concealment is that by keeping that ancestor's name hidden, he is also keeping the names of the slaves held by his ancestors hidden. Their history is being kept from descendants who may be looking for them.

When "Who Do You Think You Are" aired that Reba McIntire had slave holders in her ancestry, it gave me clues to one of my illusive ancestors. I would never had known this if McIntire had got the producers to keep this embarrassing fact hidden. I haven't had a chance to follow through on that clue yet but because of that broadcast, I now know where to look.

During my years in researching my family, I have been helped personally by descendants of relatives of people who held my ancestors in slavery. I have also been helped by pertinent information posted online by people I will never meet. I wish more people would disclose details about their ancestors, shameful or not.The sins of the father is just that, the sins of the father. That is, unless the son and/or daughter chooses to commit the same sin.

My great grandparents were slaves. I am also the descendant of slave holders. That is my history and I can live with that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Green

When I was in school, it was the custom to pinch anyone not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day. It had nothing to do with being Irish. I attended a Black segregated public school. However, I would proudly tell my fellow classmates that I really was Irish. This was the oral legend of my family.

Now with the aid of science and DNA testing, I have proof of my Irish heritage. According to, I am a whopping 19% Irish. I still don't know how, when or where, but I am definitely descended from several persons from Ireland. And my Irish ancestors reside behind my brick wall.

I know most of my Black ancestors back to 1825. I only know one White ancestral line up to that date. That is my Featherston line. There may be Irish roots there. The Featherstons did come from England so there may be Irish ties somewhere in that family tree.

What is unique about my Featherston ties is that the interracial union of my great grandparents occurred right after slavery. Those other earlier couplings were, more than likely, forced and they definitely were not documented.

Irish immigrants didn't have it easy when they first arrived here in America. People looked down on  them, discriminated against them, called them "black" among other epitaphs. Some were even held as slaves. Of course, their road to equality cannot compare to Black American's tedious journey.

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about my Irish heritage. I'm no longer that young naive child that gladly pronounced that she was Irish. I don't resent it either. My feelings, like Black genealogy, is complicated.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

History Matters

Last year, nearly to the day, I wrote:

"There are many people in the world who do not believe the holocaust happened. There are many people who believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Really. And that dinosaurs roamed the earth as late as 6,000 years ago. And that slavery in America is just a myth.

This last belief confounded me. Well, they all confound me but the last one was a new one on me. Although I am amazed that there are some people out there (really out there) that ascribe to this notion and at their ignorance, sadly, I am not surprised.

This belief was observed by a member  of a Facebook genealogy group I belong to. He posted 'I work in Gettysburg doing tours at the Farnsworth House. I do afternoon historical tours of the house and I talk about the battle in that corner of the town. We have some historical documents framed and hanging on the walls. One is a bill of sale for a slave from Virginia. Last year I had two African American young ladies 17 and 18 from Uniontown PA (south of Pittsburgh) on my tour who upon seeing that told me that they did not believe that slavery ever existed. And that documents like that were just white peoples ploys to keep black folk down. I asked if they took history in high school and they replied that history doesn’t matter.'”

These young ladies chose not to believe a distasteful part of their history. Instead  they decided to use the ostrich method of dealing with it.

About a month ago, this screenshot was posted on the same Facebook genealogy group.

I can only assume that these were also young persons involved in this conversation. At least, I hope so. All I can do is shake my head.

It is said that those who do not know, learn, ignore (choose whichever word you prefer) history, are doomed to repeat it. Kurt Vonnegut says "“We're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive." Looking around at current events, it looks like Vonnegut is right. However, I keep the faith that learning about our history will make us better.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

1,000 Words

I read a quote yesterday that boggled my mind. According to the now defunct 1000memories website, every two minutes we take as many photos today as all of humanity took during the entire 19th century. 

Photography became popular and accessible to many during the Civil War. Letters to soldiers usually included a request for a portrait which the soldiers usually complied. These photos were treasures, the next best things to having the real person back at home with their loved ones.  

And those photos are even more precious today because they are hard to find. I have been blessed to have some photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century but I want more.  

Yes, I love a good story. I have been fascinated by the written word from the moment my father walked me, a precocious seven year old, to the local library branch to get my first library card. Yet, I must concur that a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Stories of long-gone ancestors are wonderful but a photo is glorious. Looking into the eyes of a past ancestors and relatives, marking their stance and demeanor, observing the details of fashions from another era, takes one's perception of those individuals to a level not obtained by mere vital statistics. For me, old photos are time machines that captures the past where words may fail. 

So I hunt for old photographs, beg relatives who profess to hoard them, take as many photos as I can for future generations. And I share. Because not only do we take more photos now than ever, we have the technology to scan and post our treasures for all to see.

Columbus and Narcissa Alexanders, my paternal great grandparents

Fred and Posie Warren, my maternal grandparents
Solomon Koonce, born 1826, and family. He is my 3 x great-grandfather on my mother's side

Narcissa Wallace Alexander, my paternal great grandmother

Narcissa's mother, Cinderella Wallace

My maternal great grandmother Lizzie Brassfield Koonce and her sister Cora Brassfield.