Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Loose Ends

Slowly I'm getting back into my addiction. School is closed this week so I have lots of free time. I finished my pictorial family history book which I plan to sell as a fundraiser for the upcoming Koonce family reunion. I looked up several names on ancestry.com to see if anything new had been added. There hadn't. It is frustrating that those brick walls haven't come down yet. It is unrealistic of me to wish they had but I still had that dream. That frustration is what led me to take my hiatus.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Here We Go A Sleuthing

Others may see this season as the time to be jolly. For me, it is a chance to get back to my hobby that I have neglected for too long. I feel like a knitter that has put down that baby bootie and lost some stitches. Got to pick them up again but it isn't that easy.

First order of things, I went to ancestry.com and looked up Napoleon. He still remains somewhat of a mystery. I looked at the 1910 census which is the last public place I can locate him so far. He dies some time before my grandfather goes to draft board for WWI. What I notice on the census is Felix Cotten. He is living next door. Everyone else living in the vicinity are relatives of Mary. Who is Felix? Napoleon's brothers' names are Hiram and Richard. Felix was born around 1867 and isn't on the 1870 census with Napoleon's immediate family but there has to be some kind of connection.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dead People Talking

Back in 2008 I blogged about conversations I wish I could have with dead people. One of my conversations concerned Charles Featherston. "I wish I could talk to Charles Featherston and find out if he loved Matilda and her children. Did the rest of the family know about them? Was he ostracized because (sic) he was white and she was a former slave or was it accepted?"

Would you believe that I have had that conversation? After renewing my research on the Featherston family, I came across someone on ancestry.com who was also researching Charles Featherston and Matilda, my great great grandmother. I almost couldn't contain my excitement. Of course, I contacted the person immediately. After several tries, I finally spoke with her.

I am not disclosing her name for privacy reasons but she was an individual who was related to Matilda's daughter Dollie's husband. She had photos of Dollie Melvina and her family. Even more important, she had interviewed Dollie's granddaughter. According to the granddaughter, Charles' family knew of the relationship and children between him and Matilda. After Charles died, his sister visited them often and sometimes contributed financially to the family. The sister believed that this was a love story! I didn't even ask the question. It was volunteered. See, my questions were answered posthumously.

However, there is a bone of contention here. Dollie's granddaughter disputed the love story idea. Maybe the love was only in Charles' mind and not Matilda. Maybe the children resented the situation. Consider the idea of a relationship between a slave owner and his slave. You can romanticize it but the fact remains one person owns the other. That is the definition of statutory rape.

But I am not dealing with that at this moment. It was just so fantastic to see the photos and hear new stories. It has energized me and opened up new avenues to research.

The photo is of Katie Featherston Wilkins Hardy Warren ? She may have married again. Katie is Matilda's daughter, sister to Dollie Melvina and my great grandmother. My grandfather looked like Katie. In the photo that I saw, Dollie looked like an elderly white woman. According to her grandson, she was often mistaken for being white when she was riding in the "colored" section on the train in Tennessee. The conductor would put her in the "white" section.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Armchair genealogy can take you only so far

This blog is FMI--for my information. I am tracking down several lines and there are road blocks for every one of them. That is the reason why I am tracing so many lines at once. I would get so discouraged (I still get frustrated) if I was tracing only one line and kept bumping up against those blocks. By doing several at the same time, I make incremental progress and it keeps me going.

These are the mysteries I am working on. I have the most detailed information on the Koonce line. I can trace it back to our patriarch Solomon who was born in the Carolinas around 1826, possibly as early as 1822. I wish I could go back farther. My second wish is to find out more about Amy, the mother of his first set of children.

My great great grandfather is supposedly Charles Festherston of Dyer, Tennessee. I would like to trace that line back to England. Goodspeed says his people are from there but I can only trace the line back to another Charles Featherstone, born in the early 1700's in Virginia and who died around 1790. There is a will probated in Brunswick County, Virginia. After that, there is only uncorroborated data.

I wish I could figure out why the Cottens changed their name. If I could do that, maybe I could locate my great great grandfather Napoleon's siblings. It could also help me locate their Mississippi slave owner.

The same goes for the Warrens in Tennessee. I am 75% sure that the Warrens had another surname right after the emancipation of 1863. I can only locate them from 1900 on.

There are more mysteries popping up as I continue researching but these are the ones I am concentrating on. I keep hoping when I come back from a hiatus that the information will be easier to locate but this armchair genealogy research can only take you so far. That's why my biggest wish is to have all the time and money it takes to do nothing but concentrate on this research. Genie, did you hear that?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board

Sometimes it's good to get away from genealogy. When you come back, you have fresh eyes.

I'm doing that with my Featherston line. In the past, I was quick to accept documentation from others that did the work. That was not always the correct choice because much of the information was wrong or not collaborated.

For example, I am trying to trace the Featherstons back to England. I have good sources for tracing my great great grandfather Charles R. Featherston back as far as 1790. His father was William J. Featherston Sr. William's father was Carolus Featherston of Virginia who died in Franklin County, Kentucky. There is a will as well as other sources. Carolus father was Charles Featherston of Charles City, Virginia. He left a will in Brunswick County that was probated in January 1790. That's where the line gets squiggly. There are so many Charles and William Featherstones that the lines need detangling like Christmas tree lights. To make matters worse, one Featherston family named two of the sons William so there's a William the elder and William the younger.

When I look on ancestry.com or family search, the lines are not distinguished from each other. It makes a big difference. So my family may or may not have come from Warwickwshire, England. So it's back to the drawing board for much of my information.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yeomen Featherstones

Slowly I'm getting back into the groove. This obsession won't ever let me completely quit.
I began researching more on the Featherstones since visiting the castle and town. Looking on Ancestry.com, I was able to trace the line back to 1428 in Warwickshire, England. The thing is, Warwickshire is not very close to Featherstone. Featherstone is farther north near the Scottish border. Warwickshire is south near Stratford-on-Avon.( It's kind of exciting to think that my ancestors may have known Shakespeare.) The Featherstones were yeomen. If I understand the title, yeomans were medieval middle class. The Featherstones of the castle were noblemen. They were first mentioned in the 13th century. Sounds like I have some more researching to do.

Visiting the area does make it feel more real. Maybe next time I will visit some of the genealogical sources and libraries.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Brick walls

I finally watched Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" yesterday. I had seen snippets before and was already in awe of the late professor. Now I am inspired to come out of my lethargy and achieve my dreams.

I only had one childhood dream--to be an author. I wrote my first play when I was nine. It was an Easter play that they put on in my 4th grade class. I can't remember if it was any good just that I did it. I started a novel when I was 11. I remember the title--"The Devil and the Joneses." I never finished it. I use to create family newspapers during that time complete with a comic strip. Since that time I have written professionally off and on and finally self-published my family history. But I feel that I have stop short of actually reaching that dream.

Now I have another dream, a grown-up one. I want to go as far back as I can go on as many lines of my ancestors as I can and to chronicle it so that my family and other interested people can profit from my research.

And I can't let the brick walls stop me. Pausch said in the video, "Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something." To me that also means that brick walls are not insurmountable. They can be conquered. It may take years. It may take someone else taking up the gauntlet. But they must be scaled, torn down or whatever to get to the information.

So these are my goals--to become an author and to tear down those brick walls.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Long time

I smashed some of my New Year's resolutions into tiny pieces. I'm talking about the one where I post more. In the past few months, I became very paranoid and also a little self-deprecating. You know, that "vanity, vanity, all is vanity" kind of thinking. That plus work and brick walls sapped my enthusiasm about blogging.

I'm not saying I'm ready to blog every day again. I'm still a little suspicious of how little privacy we have on the internet and how much we give away for free. But I am facing the reality of life in the millennium. And if you can't beat them, rejoin them.

So I'm kind of back. And I'm literally back. I did keep that resolution about visiting the ancestral castle in Featherstone. The sight of the castle as it came into view was magical. I could imagine the horses galloping down the road to the castle, over hills and dales, real ones, past a running brook full of stones. It was one of the highlights of my trip.

Unfortunately I was not able to get inside. The castle is privately owned. I knocked several times on the door but no one answered. I was too shy to venture further. Alas, I found out the next day that a friend of the owner was at my B & B and could have gotten me an invitation. Must not have been meant to be. I did get several photos, some of which I will enlarge for art and the rest will be in my book. I didn't see the side of the castle shown in an earlier blog. I didn't want to trespass more than I did.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is it Spring yet?

I took an unplanned hiatus from research. Teaching is using up all my gray matter and leaves very few discretionary brain cells for other pursuits. That is my reason not my excuse. On a higher note, I am working at my 2010 resolutions. It's kind of a good news/bad news deal, though. Good news: I finished formatting my last edition of "Say My Name." Bad news: my computer froze and when it unfroze, all my stuff was gone. Did you hear me screaming for 30 minutes? That's when it happened.

Yes, I have a copy of the book saved to an external hard drive. I also have a hard copy. But it's a lot of work to format it and tweak it and I don't have the energy to do it again. At least, not until the summer.

About my other resolution, I have booked my trip to England. I will see the ancestral castle in Featherstone. It took me weeks to click the button to book but I womanned up and finally did it. I will leave as soon as my last class ends. On my own. Aren't I brave?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Family Secrets

My grandmother Posie told my aunt Carolyn that there were some things she was taking with her to the grave. And there goes a treasure full of information or does it?

One of my arguments about full disclosure is that while the interested parties may be sheltered from the truth, uninterested parties are walking around talking about other people's business. So the family is actually being an ostrich with its head in the sand while everybody else sees the butt.

This became my argument because of another family scandal I became privy to. This scandal happened decades and decades ago and the people are only names to me. It was a matter of incest (most secrets seem to be of a sexual nature since criminal acts are usually in the public domain). I was told about it over 10 years ago by a distant cousin. The thing is, she was told by an elderly lady in a nursing home. This elderly lady relished reporting the juicy details to her. So how many times had the lady told this story? How many others knew?

I still don't know if I will tell my relatives about the current piece of information. I mentioned it casually in very general terms to my sister whose interest in genealogy is casual at best. She wonderered what was so important about telling the story.

That struck me. That is the question at the root of every genealogical pursuit. And I heard the answer today on television when George Stephanopoulos was discussing how many Haitians would just disappear into history as if they never existed because of this tragic earthquake. Bodies would be shoveled into empty graves with no markers like the participants in a horrid magic trick. This is what happened to my black ancestors hundreds of years ago. I can't allow this to happen to my people if I can help it. I must mark their existence and record that they mattered to someone once upon a time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's Complicated

Several months ago I tweeted and commented about whether embarassing information should be disclosed in the name of genealogy.There had been a discussion about this during one of my genealogy group's meetings. I was on the side of disclosure. Others disagreed. They believed the information should be tabled until the parties were dead.

Now I have been presented with an actual dilemma. I was told that one of my relatives assaulted someone 50 years ago and fathered a child. This is something that I don't think the family knows about. The relative is dead and now the child is dead. The person that told me is an outside observer. The mother is still alive and there are grandchildren.

Now do I put my money where my mouth was? This relative has children still living and I have no idea how I would tell them about their unknown sibling. There is also a side of me that wants to embrace the grandchildren. They are innocent and they are blood. Things are so much more complicated when it isn't theoretical any more.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year, New Decade

New beginnings mean new starts. So of course, I resolve to do better than before. My resolutions include:

* First of all, posting more.

* Solving at least one mystery of my family's ancestors.

* I intend to visit Featherstone Castle in Northumberland County, England. This castle may have some connection to my Warren/Featherston roots. It will be mostly a trip of curiosity. I do not expect to have some profound epiphany while there.

* I hope to go to Mississippi once again but this time I will venture into the county courts. The trip to the state archive was monumentally disappointing.

* I will make at least one pilgrimage to one of the genealogy libraries, probably Fort Wayne, although I would love to get back to the Tennessee state archives and the national archives in D.C.

I realize resolutions are often broken so I'm trying not to reach too far beyond my grasp.