Monday, March 24, 2008

Missing things

The ground work for all of my research was laid by my aunt Carolyn "Adrene." She started many years ago while she was living in Atlanta. It was easier for her to visit courthouses in Tennessee and interview relatives living nearby.

When I caught the genealogy bug, I would call her with any theory or breakthrough. We would discuss our findings for hours like true "genie" geeks. Sadly, my aunt passed away four years ago. All of her documents, all her photos, all of her findings were passed on to me. And even though I immediately poured over the treasured inheritance, I am finding out that I missed things.

I missed things like the pages torn from the family bible. I didn't realize they were the originals until this year. I missed that my grandmother had another brother, a name I never heard of. He died young and in between censuses. As mentioned before, I missed that my great great great grandmother Amy was supposedly full blooded Cherokee. When I asked Adrene before, she told me it was another of my great grandmothers.

But what I miss most is my aunt Adrene. She was only two years older than me, the youngest of my mother's 11 siblings. We were more like sisters than aunt and niece. When we were growing up she was my confidante and my mentor. We lost touch as our lives went in different directions. Through our love for genealogy, we had connected again until death disconnected us. All I can do now is wonder what Adrene would have said about this or that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dead Ends

I checked the slave census for Mississippi. According to the censuses, my Cotten family can't have been slaves on any Cain family farm in Amite or Franklin county. So I'm back to square one.

It may be as simple as was the case for many emancipated slaves--Winnie first took the name of her last slave owner, Anderson. The Andersons had very large plantations in Amite and numerous slaves. I will check the Amite records when I visit Mississippi. At least the Amite County court records weren't burned like Pike County's.

The other dead end is the trail of my great-great-great grandmother Amy. After a quick look at the Cherokee history, I found out there is practically no way Amy could have been a full-blooded Cherokee. It is true that there was a large presence of Cherokees in North Carolina and Tennessee where my Koonce relatives lived, so it is possible she could have been part Cherokee. However, enslaving tribal natives proved to be so dangerous that America stopped doing it by the 1820's. There is only a slight chance that Amy was full-blooded Cherokee since she was probably born in the 1820's.

I was wondering if her heritage had anything to do with the absence of her stories in our family's oral legend. This tangent deserves more research. I am finding out that there is a strange relationship between Cherokees and slavery. I wasn't aware of how many slaves were owned by native Americans until I watched the African American Lives 2. The documentary traced actor Don Cheadle's ancestors back to slaves owned by native Americans. It also stated that many black Americans claim to be "part Indian" but actually aren't.

At an early age I was told that I was part Indian and part Irish. Being young, I just accepted it as a fact. Now, as I research my history more, I question the possibilities. It could be true but I need proof.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mysteries to Solve

I haven't been able to make much headway into finding my great-great-great-grandma Amy. I've been rereading a lot of material that I inherited from my aunt. I found something I missed from my first perusal. According to the oral legend, she was supposed to be a full-blooded Cherokee.

I don't know why I feel she abandoned her family. She could have died right after the Civil War. It's the absence of stories about her that makes me think she decided not to stay with Solomon.

I am also trying to find out more about my Cotten line. I want to know why they changed their name from Anderson to Cotten. Knowing why will make it easier to trace the family. I now have a new theory to disprove.

My great-grandfather Napoleon Cotten had a brother who chose the surname Cain. After googling the name Cain in the Mississippi archive, I came up with several families in Amite County, the same county where my family lived in 1870. Here's an excerpt from Cain, a book by Mildred and Margaret Ezell which I found interesting.

"Descendants of Isaiah and Polly (Butler) Cain: 1) Mary B. Cain, b 21 Nov. 1822 Amit. Co., d 8 Sep 1843, bur Zion Hill Cem., Amite Co.; m 5 Mar 1840 (Amite 3-81 by T W Pound J.P., George W. Carmack bondsman) Joseph Robertson Cotten, b 7 July 1818, d 17 Mch 1885, bur Cotten Cem., Fr. Co. MS (S32 T5 R5)."

Joseph and Mary had one daughter. Mary died young and Joseph remarried. Isaiah and Polly (sometimes called Mary too) raised Mary's daughter Mary Cotten, not Joseph. Joseph is also the father of Thomas Cotten by his second wife. This is the very same Thomas that lived next door to Ammon Cotten, Napoleon's son, on the 1900 Pike County census. Both Thomas and Ammon listed their profession as merchants. I found that too much of a coincidence. That was why I first thought Joseph was the slave owner of Winnie and her children. There had to be contact between the two families because of Mary Cotten.

In addition, I found a white Hiram Cain and a white Elizabeth Cain and a white Napoleon Whittington, a Cain cousin all in that family group in Amite County. These were my family's names too. I know that doesn't mean much by itself. These names could have been very popular during this time. But it has made me think about checking in a whole new direction.

What if my gr-gr-gr-grandmother Winnie and her children were originally on the Cain plantation? What if Winnie married someone named Anderson and he was not the father of her children? What if they were befriended by the Cottens after the Civil War? I know these are a lot of "what ifs." Hopefully, by following these "ifs" I will run across more family members and the answers to some of the mysteries.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Alex Haley Connection

Of course, every genealogy hobbyist knows who Alex Haley was. He inspired many Americans to begin tracing their family tree. He also made it okay for a generation of Black Americans to accept their heritage as slaves.

I have always felt a connection to Haley. We share the same birthday, August 11. In addition, many of his ancestors grew up in the same area of Tennessee as my ancestors. I was curious to see if we shared any relatives as I researched my family. We don't. However, we did end up having a very close connection.

My first love was born in Savannah, Tennessee. I have since found out that Savannah is also the birth place of Haley's father. While talking to my boyfriend's uncle about his own numerous romantic escapades in Savannah, one name kept cropping up--Queenie.

The next time I heard that name was years later. About two years ago, I was talking with a new co-worker, sharing bits and pieces of our lives, I was astounded to find out she was also from Savannah, Tennessee. Not only that but that she knew my boyfriend and his uncle very well and the Queenie I heard so much about was her cousin. That is when I found out that Queenie was one of Haley's cousins and so was my co-worker. Queenie is a family name handed down from Haley's great grandmother. Remember the TV follow up to "Roots," "Queen," starring Halle Berry?

So this is my six degrees of separation from Alex Haley. Actually, it's more like two degrees. Sometimes it amazes me how small the world can be at times.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Maternal difficulties

As already stated, I have a wealth of information about my grandfathers, greats and otherwise. My grandmothers are a lot harder to flesh out but I'm not giving up.

Last week I discovered that my great-grandmother Katie Featherston, the woman on the left in the photo, had even more children than I was previously aware. I happened upon it after looking for information for a cousin by marriage. The cousin is a Wilkins and had heard of Katie. She tried to put two and two together but it didn't add up to four.

Katie married Tom Wilkins in 1881. By 1898 she was married to a Henry Hardy. On the 1900 Dyer County Tennessee census, she listed all her children as Hardy's. Not only that, she stated that she had been married to Henry for 16 years. Not true. She also stated that she gave birth to 11 children but only 6 were living. That math didn't add up either. On the very same census eight children are listed. Obviously the younger 6 were hers from her first marriage. The census taker didn't catch that or didn't care.

Two years later she is married to my great grandfather Ike Warren. By the 1910 census only my grandfather and her youngest child by Wilkins, Joseph, are living with her. She states here that she had three children but only one is living. The census taker didn't correct her again.

These are just some of the discrepancies genealogy geeks have to weed through in our search.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Websites worth a visit

I am always googling for information on African American genealogy and corresponding blogs. These are just a few that I thought worth mentioning.

I happened across this blog a few days ago. The top ten worst ways to begin family history is hilarious. Chris Dunham is the author with the wicked sense of humor.

The Missouri State Archives has created an on-line video for researchers of African Americanc genealogy. Entitled "Putting Together the Pieces of Your Past," the video contains five parts with accompanying links to transcripts. Family History Research Consultant Traci Wilson-Kleekamp is responsible for the information. She provides helpful tips on which Web sites are best for African American genealogy research. She also points out which documents are most useful and how to get the most out of these records.

Two great reference and genealogy news blogs are Everton's Genealogy Blog and Eastmans' Online Genealogy Newsletter. Both are great for news in the genealogy world. The link for Everton is for the African American category but you can find other information by clicking on the home link.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mutts and Cousins

My local genealogy club met Saturday. It was exciting to see all those people interested in tracing their roots. I don't know what is more intriguing--the people who have been researching for over 20 years or the ones just beginning.

Genealogy can easily become an obsession. All it took for me was finding my grandmother as a little child on a soundex card. I didn't know what I was doing. I had no one guiding me. It was serendipity that I even found her name. But when I saw her name, her age, her grandparents name (she was an orphan), it gave me such a rush. The thrill that I felt when I saw the document where my grandmother Posie's great-grandfather Solomon was sold to the slave owner was no more nor less than that first rush.

Back to the club meeting. I was struck by the various degrees of hostility toward ancestors that are white. My club is all Black and as far as we know, all descendants of slaves. One woman was very proud that she could not trace her line back to whites--so far. Another woman cried at the injustice of bigotry and cruelty that happened to her ancestors centuries ago.

It makes me wonder why I am so far removed emotionally. Could it be because I was told all my life about my mixed heritage? I am not ashamed that my ancestors were slaves. It was not their fault. I am proud that they were able to survive. I don't give a thought to the fact that my great-grandfather was a corporal in the Confederate army. I am guilty, however, of romanticizing his relationship with my great-grandmother even though I know it could not have been easy nor pretty. Mostly I just think that the whole world is full of mutts.