Wednesday, January 30, 2008

African American Lives 2

Between February 6th and 13th, PBS will air "African American Lives 2," a new four-part series that explores roots, race and identity through the ancestry of a dozen Black celebrities. This is a sequel to the previous series that traced the family lines of such persons as Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones and Whoopi Goldberg. This time around the celebrities include Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, Tom Joyner and Tina Turner. It is worth a look.

I must admit to being extremely envious and jealous of this show. I watched some excerpts on and marveled at the extent of the research. The average person does not have the kind of time and money it takes to uncover the manner of documents represented in the show. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is also the web page Editor-In-Chief and host of the documentary, was able to acquire grants from several sources which definitely made the research possible.

I know most inquisitive people hire genealogists but I want to be the one to find the data. The hunt is as important to me as the discovery of the trail. The tedium does not bother me and believe me, sometimes looking at all the microfilm and searching through library stacks could be very tedious. But when you find that end of a piece of thread that leads to more and more information and the mystery begins to unravel, there is such a thrill. I guess that's why I am hooked on genealogy research. I just need more money and time to feed my habit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


One of the reasons I chose the caption of this blog is because genealogy is about finding lost relatives. Then I think about the old Flip Wilson joke about Christopher Columbus discovering America. He may have discovered it for himself but there were people living in America that didn't think they needed discovering. They weren't lost.

While surfing the web for information on African-American genealogy, one name kept popping up. When I started searching for information on the Koonce family, this name popped up again. I had to check it out then.

Taneya's Genealogy Blog is full of useful information. She's a librarian so that explains her thoroughness. I don't know if we're actually related. Her father was William Koonce and there is a connection to the Koonces from North Carolina. I'm just glad to find a fellow genealogy hobbyist. We made actual contact and I hope it is the beginning of more communication and discoveries.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking for the Paper Trails of Slavery

I went through the material my aunt had gathered during her research. She shared much of the information verbally with me but not the documents. Unfortunately, she passed away four years ago due to complications from diabetes. I claimed her documents since she always promised them to me.

One thing that she never found during all her hard work was a paper trail about Solomon Koonce while he was a slave. There is a lot of oral history. He was supposedly sold at 19 to Isaac Koonce, a farmer in Haywood County, Tennessee. We do have anecdote about Isaac's brother-in-law David Nunn buying or receiving slaves for unpaid debts in North Carolina and transporting them to Tennessee. My aunt Adrene believed that Solomon was one of those slaves.

I am more of the mind that Solomon was inherited or sold after being inherited. Of course, I have no proof. It's just a hunch. We're not sure when he was born. The sources purport his birth to be anywhere from 1822 to 1828. The year 1828 is when Nunn and Isaac came to Tennessee from North Carolina so they probably didn't bring him during the move. If he was born in 1822, he would have been 19 around 1841. Between 1841 and 1842, an aunt of Nunn died. She didn't have any children so her property went to her nieces and nephew. Some of her property were human and she was from North Carolina. I'm going to follow this trail and see if I can find documents with names or at least ages that coincide with Solomon.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Surnames I Am Researching

I am descended from Solomon Koonce who was born around 1822 in North Carolina. He was a slave on a farm in Haywood and Crockett County, Tennessee. I am also descended from Napoleon Cotten. He was born in Mississippi around 1857 and lived in Amite and Pike, County. His mother was Winnie Dear. Napoleon married Mary Saunders of Mississippi. My grandmother Lula Alexander is a descendant of John and Catherine Alexander of Lincoln and Pike County, Mississippi.

I have not been able to go back farther on the Black side. Other names are Warren, Featherston, Brassfield, Roberts in Dyer, Hawyood, Gibson, and Crockett, Tennessee and Wallace of Mississippi.

For more information, you can email me or follow the link below to "Say My Name."

Slaves in the Family

After writing my first family history, "Say My Name," I was exhilarated and exhausted. I edited it, abridged it, added to it, but then put it aside. Lately, I've been wanting to go back to it. For me it's a skeleton. The story needs flesh and blood. I want the ghosts to speak.

For inspiration I went back to a book I bought many years ago. "Slaves in the Family," by Edward Ball was published 1998. I read bits and pieces of it while I was doing my own research. It was a unique perspective of a descendant of slave owners. As I reread the beginning, it struck me. One reason Black Americans are having so much trouble finding more genealogical data is because the research needs to be done in conjunction with our White ancestors. They have the names and the documents, if they still exist.

I have communicated with a relative of Solomon Koonce's slave owner. He was the nicest man and also a genealogy hobbyist. I also emailed a relative of Charles Featherston. She never knew of the family that claimed him as father. Both persons were very receptive. I know all White relatives won't be helpful. I did receive a racist email while I was looking for more information about Winnie Dear.

I have also talked with many Black Americans who deny their White heritage. On a similar vein, I had a discussion recently with a co-worker who thought birth data should be kept secret from adopted children. She believes there are things in the dark that should remain in the dark.

I disagree. The truth may sometimes be ugly but I feel it should be uncovered. The truth is the light. The dark breeds shadows, lies and ugliness. The trick is to stare into the light without flinching. I'm about the light.

Friday, January 25, 2008

In the Beginning

This is the first of many blogs (I hope) about my journey to discover ancestors. I have been on this journey for over ten years. I have travelled all over the country, visiting archives, relatives, libraries, in an effort to learn as much as I can.

I'm just plain nosy. That's what my family think. However, I argue that inquisitiveness is a by-product of critical thinking. I want to know the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the mundane, the extraordinary of all my people. Besides, I truly believe that everybody has a story. To tell the story is to breath life into a memory. It is archaeology on a small but no less important scale.

I have already written my family history but a family history is always a work in progress. There is so much more I want to learn and transcribe.

So what?

The answer to that is perhaps as I learn and write about my family, it may help others who are interested in doing the same. It may shed a tiny glimmer on the human condition because a major portion of my ancestors were slaves and those who slept with slaves.