Monday, February 25, 2008

Cemeteries in Tennessee

I'm finding little tidbits of information, adding more flesh to the skeletons. Ironically, the information I am finding is from cemeteries which can be a wealth of data.

I found the burial place of Charles R. Featherston, my great-great grandfather. The cemetery is listed on the Dyer County page of the tngenweb site. Charles is buried in Shaw Cemetery in Dyer County. The vital information is also listed there. He was born Aug 6 1824 and died Jan 12 1873. His father, William Featherston, which would be my great-great-great grandfather, is buried there too. He died Jan 21 1870 at age 76. The cemetery is in danger of being abandoned. I can't find where or when Matilda, the mother of Charles' children, died and was buried although by sleuthing on the same website I found out she married Henry Hall in 1883 and was dead by 1900.

There was a sad notation about one of the abandoned cemeteries in Crockett County. According to Jonathan K. Smith, who compiled the cemetery inventory for the county, the African-American Nunn cemetery began as a slave burial ground. There are many graves here, some marked with cedar trees, but only one tombstone. The tombstone is for the daughter of my great-great aunt Mosella Koonce Dodson. It reads:

Fannie L. Dodson
30 Apr 1883 - Nov 11 1885
Daughter of J.D. & M. Dodson.

That means that the unmarked graves could very well be for other relatives of mine and I will never know who they are. It is also another piece of information that connects my family to the Nunns in some way.

My family maintains the New Cemetery (that's its name) in Crockett County. It was formerly known as Nunn Cemetery. This is where Solomon and his wife Cherry Koonce, my great-great grandparents James and Mary Jane Koonce, great-grandparents Willie and Lizzie Koonce are buried as well as several other relatives. I am very proud of the fact that the cemetery is still being used for family. I love the continuity. Mosella, mother of little Fannie is buried here and is the oldest grave. There are also graves as recent as 2005.

I must make a note to speak with my cousins who maintain the cemetery to see if they know anything about the old Nunn cemetery.

Happy Trails

It's been a long, trying week. I caught the bug that has been going around. It made it difficult to get my head above the covers. I wasn't able to do any follow up on my remarkable gift. However, I had quite a few comments which made me feel a little better. Thank you all. You've given me a lot of encouragement and some a few hints of where to look next.

It's a new week. The snow hasn't hit yet and I almost feel normal again. Time to get back to work.

I love genealogy!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Holy Grail

I am so excited! I received an email from someone who had the actual receipt naming my great-great-great grandfather.

Now that may sound strange to someone who is mired in guilt or shame or anger. Slavery is a fact of my history just like the fact that some of my ancestors were slave owners. It happened. I am here. Now I just want to learn as much as I can about all of my ancestors.

I was thrilled to see the actual document. It states:

"Received of Isaac Koonce five hundred and thirty one dollars for boy Solomon purchased from Nunn’s estate & I am to give a bill of sale for ____ boy.

January 6, 18?? Sheppard M. Ashe "

The date is marked over. It looks like it was first written 1839 and then changed to 40. After looking at abstracts from the 1840's, I determined the date to be 1840. This is mostly due to finding Sheppard M. Ashe on these other abstracts and that it fits Solomon's oral history.

I've been pouring over other data online and off. Years ago, a fellow genealogy hobbyist and distant relative of Isaac Koonce gifted me with a family history book named "Nunns of the South." It was written decades ago and is very hard to follow but it does mention Isaac Koonce and David Nunn several times. I was hoping to find the Nunn whose estate Solomon came from. No luck so far.

And in addition to this bill of sale, the wonderful lady also has bills of receipt for other slaves of Isaac. They are:

"Negro boy, Ben, age 14, sold to John Koonce by Abner Green - Jones Co, North Carolina , January 1814

Negro woman, Betty age 20 from George Mitchell to John Koonce - March 1808, North Carolina

Gorge and Hanah from John Koonce to son Isaac Koonce, Jones Co, NC December 1822

Elijah, age 20, sold to Isaac Koonce in Haywood Co TN (not Transcribed) 1829

Mariah, age 12 – to Isaac Koonce from Alfred Kennedy, Haywood Co, TN - August 1832."

I tried very hard to save the document as a gif or jpg so I could upload it but my computer wouldn't let me. As soon as I can (printer issues), I am going to scan the documents and put it on my blog as well as on my family history page, Say My Name.

I received all of this late Friday. Some of my giddiness has died down, but not much. It has inspired me to keep on searching.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Faith Leaping or Conclusion Jumping

It is a cardinal sin for any genealogist to jump to conclusion. Everything must be collaborated and documented. It makes it real, real hard for those of us researching our African-American ancestors. There is very little documentation readily available and much of that is inaccurate. It is so tempting to jump to conclusion.

For example, my cousin Juanita found her grandmother Rosa Nance listed on the Tennessee census as the daughter of Harvey Dunnagin. She immediately claimed that we were not related based on that information. However, it turned out that Dunnagin was Rosa's grandfather. The census was taken during a time when Rosa and her siblings were living with their grandparents. Rosa's mother Malessie was living in Memphis while Rosa's father, my great-grandfather Ike Warren, was living elsewhere. The information was there in black and white but it was wrong.

Right now I'm on the trail for Amy, mother of Solomon's children. I already mentioned my theory in a previous post. After searching the 1900 census, I found an "Emmie Nunn" living with Joe Dodson and his family. She is listed as a widow and "G-mother." I checked other Tennessee censuses and could not find an Emmie Nunn. I want so much to believe that Emmie is mispelled for Amy. Joe's children would be her grandchildren since his wife was Mosella Koonce, Solomon and Amy's oldest living daughter. Mosella had passed away ten years earlier. I want to believe but I have to keep digging for actual proof.

There is also evidence this is not my Amy. First of all the name is wrong. The birthdate is listed as March of 1819. And she had 10 children but none of them are living in 1900. So there is a good chance she isn't who I hope her to be. I plan on taking a trip to Tennessee soon to find out more. No matter what I wish, it has to be verifiable proof.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Whole Truth and Nothing But

It was a rude awakening for me to discover that the information on the census is not necessarily true. The birth date often changes. I don't know if this is due to memory or vanity. Some of my female ancestors do seem to get younger on each census.

The same happens to the location of their birth. It can be different on each census but I am inclined to believe earlier census may be more accurate than later ones.

Some of the mistakes are made by the census takers. For example, on the 1880 census Solomon's birthplace is listed as South Carolina and his wife Cherry as Tennessee. However his children's father's (Solomon) birthplace is listed as South Carolina for the older children and Tennessee for the younger children. The census taker didn't catch the discrepancy.

To make matters more confusing, his birthplace was listed as Tennessee on the 1870 census. This is different from the oral history. Did he misunderstand the census taker's question?

It has made me realize that being factual was not as high a priority in other centuries as is it is now. It makes the genealogist job that much harder.

Monday, February 4, 2008

There are all kinds of love affairs

My love affair with genealogy has been an off and on thing. Not that I ever give up on it. But sometimes I get so exhausted that I have to take a long vacation from it. I was in the middle of a long, long break when a new-found cousin wrote me last year and now the affair is back on.

With some distance from my last stint, I've been going over notes and details with a different perspective. It's exciting because I am seeing things I overlooked before. For example, with my fresh outlook a new theory is evolving about my great-great-great grandmother. We have been trying forever to figure out who she was. All we have to go by is the name Amy and that she may have been related to the Winstons. That's it. She disappears from our story immediately after the Civil War. We assumed she died.

Solomon had at least six children by her. The oldest daughter was Mosella born around 1849. The youngest son was Mose born around 1865. It struck me that both children were obviously named after Mose. Could Mose be a real person and important to the family in some way?

On the 1870 Tennessee census there is a Moses and Amy Nunn living next door to Mosella. Two doors down is Solomon with his wife Cherry and a centenarian named Ann Nunn. Is this just a coincidence?

All ex-slaves did not stay together as a family after emancipation. Some families were forced during slavery, only cohabitating together because the the slave master wanted them to reproduce. Some had two families having been sold away to other farms. Once they were free, some went looking for those family members they had been separated from during slavery. Some went looking for separated loves too. Could this be the case in my family?

Right now, I am surfing message boards to see if anyone knows about Mose or Amy Nunn. I am also going to go back and ask older relatives if they ever heard about the possibility of this. It is during times like this, I wish my aunt Adrene was alive so we could figure this out together.

This will not be a popular theory. It would mean Amy gave up her younger children voluntarily. It will also be a very difficult theory to prove. Ah, a challenge.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Genealogy and the Internet

The internet is a great resource for information but it does not replace the hard work of hands on research. The databases are limited to the information which has been inputted. Also, the passion (obsession) that you have in discovering your family drives you to look past misspelled words, illegible handwriting names and seemingly inconsequential details.

For example, I am constantly disappointed with I have searched unsuccessfully for names in their database which I found on my own at archives and libraries. The handwriting seems to throw the site. Dobson is seen as Dadson. Napoleon becomes Nopson. Warren is recorded as Worn. It is a plus that you can view the actual census pages on but you can't rely on the site to find the names.

To get around that go to It is the free web site of the Family History Library's database, a project of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). The entire 1880 census of the United States is available there. What make this so great is that the names you search don't have to be spelled correctly in order to find them. Once you find an individual, there is a link to a corresponding census page at The only hitch is that you must be a paid subscriber of ancestry. com to view the page.

The most helpful site online for me has been the Tennessee site on the page. The website is free unlike and manned by dedicated volunteers. Unfortunately, all states are not equal. The Tennessee site is so superior to the Mississippi page, the two pages I visit the most. Natalie Huntley has done a superb job for the counties of Dyer, Crockett, Gibson, and Haywood as coordinator even though she lives in Illinois. I recommend the site to anyone looking for data in those counties of Tennessee.

Aside from databases, the most valuable commodity of the internet in genealogy research is the connecting of like-minded individuals. Some of these people have been relatives I would never have met otherwise, distant in miles as well as on my family tree. Finding and communicating with these living cousins has been as exciting as finding obscure ancestors. And it would never have happened without the internet.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Genealogy's Brick Wall

I forget sometimes that not everyone knows about the brick walls Black Americans run into while researching their family tree. I've been doing this for so long that I assume that it is common knowledge that the 1870 census is the first census that list Black Americans by name. Before then, if Black citizens were not free, they were just a number, an age and a gender on the census.

Another brick wall we face is the surname. After emancipation, Black Americans could pick the surname they wanted. Statistically, only 15% kept the name of the slave owner. The other 85% selected names for various reasons. Sometimes names were tried on to see if they fit and then were discarded willy nilly.

Right now I am trying to figure out why my great-great grandfather Napoleon chose the surname Cotten. On the 1870 Mississippi census his family's surname was Anderson. I can't even find him on the 1880 census. On the 1900 census he is now a Cotten. His oldest son is living next door to a White Cotten. They both list their occupation as merchants which I thought had to be more that a coincidence. However, I haven't been able to discern what the importance of them being neighbors is. To make things more curious, Napoleon's brother is using the surname Cain on the 1900 census. Just another mystery to unravel.

I wrote to Sandra Craighead, a Mississippi plantation expert, after a disappointing trip to the Mississippi State Archives. At that time I still thought my ancestors were slaves from a Cotten plantation. Craighead dispelled that notion. With very little oral history to go on, I don't know which documents to look for to tell me what I need to know.

Hitting your head against these brick walls produce lots of frustration and headaches.