Monday, March 9, 2009

Genealogy Rule Number One - Never Assume

I keep getting reminded of this rule all the time in one way or another. I assumed that my g-g-g-grandfather couldn't be a slave captured from Liberia. While I haven't corroborated this--it is stated on the census that his birthplace is Virginia--I did find out that there were native Africans on the land before it was usurped for the imported freed slaves. There was naturally a lot of tension between the natives and the "Americo-Liberians." The Americo-Liberians were always considered foreigners not citizens by the natives. Liberia was even used as a temporary shelter by Americans for re-captured slaves for a while. So it is possible that maybe John's father did come from the land renamed Liberia. I know that his son, my great grandfather was very dark.

Then about Catherine being an east Indian--it is possible. I followed the lead of fellow blogger Miriam and googled east Indians as slaves. To my surprise, I found that east Indians were part of that melting pot that made up Jamestown in the 1600's. According to Francis C. Assisi (I don't know if that's his real name or his pen name) in an article for the India Currents, east Indians were brought to US shores as indentured servants and slaves first by the Dutch and then the French, the English and lastly the American captains. So it is possible that Catherine was part east Indian.

So I am reminded once again, don't jump to conclusions or make general assumptions. Research, corroborate, and verify.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Genie Meeting

Our little genealogy club meets the first Saturday of each month. It was convenient that talking about local genie clubs was part of genea-bloggers weekly prompt this week.

It was a decent turn-out. Our club is very informal. We bring each other up to date on where we are in our search. In turn we help those who are stumped, if we can, and try to inspire others not to give up. I was able to report on my latest doings--the book signing, the webnar about african-american genealogy, and my trip to Newberry Library. I was so proud of myself especially since I had kind of slacked off there for a while. I can feel the old bug now, though. I mean, two posts in two days!

What is also helping me is that I got to talk to Florence Octavia Alexander Townsend. I followed up on the clues I found yesterday and was able to track her down. She was friendly and enthusiastic. We are planning to meet very soon. She shared something very interesting in our short conversation. She said her grandmother's ancestry is part Indian--east Indian. According to her, some Indians had immigrated to Kenya and intermarried. I never heard that before. So maybe it is possible that Catherine has East Indian blood after all. Of course, I will verify first, though.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Oral Legends - Got to check them

It started with me just editing my revised book so I can upload it to the internet. I was checking for dates for my family tree. I googled "Florence Octavia Alexander," a great aunt. On the census she is listed only as Octavia. I was trying to make sure she was one and the same as Florence. One of the hits I got was for a Nkechi Florence Octavia Alexander Townsend. She was listed in a book about prominent black psychologists. I read her biography. She did turn out to be a cousin. What got my attention, however, was her story about her great grandfather.

This is her story. "My grandfather, John was born in Liberia and captured and brought to this country when he was twelve years old. He was a slave on the Lambright plantation in Virginia. He was sold to the Huffman plantation in Alabama. He married another slave named Catherine (originally from India) on the Huffman plantation. During the Civil War he ran away and worked for the union forces. After the war he returned home and took his wife and children to Mississippi. Because a union officer named “Alexander” had impressed him he changed the family’s name to that of Alexander. He and Cahterine had twelve children, nine sons and three daughters."

I got so excited. This was more information than I had ever known about my great great grandparents John and Catherine. I called up my aunt Hortense to see if she knew of this lady. She didn't. I googled Townsend and located her nearby. I plan to call tomorrow.

Then I looked at the story again. I should have known there were holes in her story. She misspoke about her great grandfather calling him just her grandfather. Next, I remembered that Liberia was a country in Africa founded by freed American slaves. So John being captured from Liberia sounds off. Catherine came from India? Really? I am searching for more information on Lambright plantation and the Huffman plantation. The funny thing is that there is a Lambright farm in Copiah County, MS and there is a John Huffman lving close to Columbus Alexander, my great grandfather, on the 1880 Mississippi census. I checked the 1860 census and old John Huffman had a male slave that is the right age for John Alexander. There was a female slave living there too and an infant. However, there should be two infants. I need to check that out more.

One thing that may be accurate from her biography is John's service during the Civil War. That's the next thing I am going to check. There is a gap between 1860 and 1865 in the births of John's and Catherine's children. After 1865, they started churning out children every year. So there's a good chance he wasn't around during that gap.

It just goes to show you. You have to corroborate. It is so tempting to believe the stories but that's all they are until you have proof.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Mississippi to Africa" Book Signing

Saturday was an inspirational day as far as my genealogical journey is concerned. I went to Chicago for a book signing. The author is Melvin Collier. The book is Mississippi to Africa."

I met Melvin on Facebook. He mistakenly thought I was a cousin but he was correct in identifying my obsession for genealogy. I have decided I want to be him when I grow up. First, he was able to trace some of his ancestors back to Africa. That is monumental and downright impossible for many Black Americans. Secondly, he has been able to distribute and sell his book all over the country. Although my book is finished, I have only sold a few copies to relatives. He sold out of copies at the Chicago book signing so I haven't been able to read it yet. I want to find out more about how he was able to trace his ancestors so far back even though my Mississippi relatives come from a different part of the state.

At the signing was Dr. Rick Kittles of African Ancestry DNA. Dr. Kittles wrote the forward to Melvin's book and was instrumental is narrowing down where Melvin's ancestors came from in Africa. Although I am skeptical whether the genetic database of the company is large enough for accurate testing, Dr. Skittles insists that the database is large enough. The price is hefty too. He quoted me $275 but I have noted that the fee can go over $300.
What was most impressive for me at the book signing though was the number of people attending and the great enthusiasm for information. It made me feel like I was a "cousin" after all.