Friday, March 16, 2012

Chasing Ancestors

I read some advice just in the past week that when researching Black ancestors, one should concentrate on one line. This advice was given because of the unique circumstances we face in trying to figure out who our ancestors are. I fundamentally disagree.

I've been researching now for 15 years. Sometimes I get so frustrated with the lack of results that I take a break. I take a break but I never quit and one of the things that keeps me going is that when I end up on a dead-end street for one line, another line still has many avenues I can explore. Finding even the most minute detail that had been hitherto hidden is enough to keep my genealogy juices pumping.

This is what has got me going right now. I always knew that I descended from Brassfields but very little else. My grandmother's mother, whose portrait hangs in my mother's home, is Lizzie Brassfield. Her father was D. Brassfield. Whenever I would try to find more about him I would get stymied by bad transcription. He had an unusual name. Now you would think that would make it easier to find him. Unfortunately not. When  20th century transcribers look at his name written in that archaic handwriting, they come up with modern names and that makes him hard to find in a search. I have looked at the original documents and see Domic or Danic. The transcribers on see David. This is the name picked up by But I digress.

Since watching Who Do You Think You Are and its episode about Reba McEntire, I have been more curious about Grandpa D. Using information from I think George Simpson Brassfield of Gibson County, Tennessee was his last slave owner.  Looking at the slave census for 1860, there is a male slave who is the right age for D living on George's farm. I have also found out that George's step-father had a larger farm with three times more slaves during 1850 and 1860 than George.  And the trail doesn't end there. I'm finding a trove of information about George that may eventually lead me to Grandpa D's origin.

So now I am energized once more. I feel like I'm one of those celebrities on WDYTYA except I am the one doing all the hard work and making the wonderful discoveries. And that feels good.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More on the Brassfields

So Reba McEntire and "Who Do You Think You Are" breathed new life into my genealogical research for one of my ancestors I had mostly ignored.

My grandmother Posie Koonce's grandfather was D. Brassfield. In 1865 D. Brassfield and Susan Buck, both of Gibson County, Tennessee, married through the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau. That license gave me very few although juicy details. D, and I keep saying D because I don't know what the heck his name is, was copper in color while Susan was bright mulatto. All other questions were answered with "unknown."

So I looked for any Brassfields on the 1860 census in Gibson County. I came up with a George Simpson Brassfield in 1850. He is the only Brassfield listed in Gibson County. He owns 10 slaves, one of which is the right age and gender for my ancestor. However, there is no listing for slaves on the 1860 census. George is still alive and according to the census has a land value of $7,500 but I can't find the slave census. This may be a blessing if there were transactions during that time. I'm pressing onward.

Oh, and by the way, George is a direct descendant, according to the Brassfield/, to Reba's ancestor George of Chester, England.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Me and Reba McEntire

I watch "Who Do You Think You Are" faithfully. Although I am extremely jealous of the research done for the celebrities, I watch because I learn something in every episode. On a few there have even been connections to the research I'm doing.

When the Reba McEntire episode aired, I figured I'd watch just for the genealogy tips, not expecting too much of a connection with the country western star. It was a great surprise then to find that there is a huge connection between our families.

Reba is a descendant of a George Brassfield. I am a descendant of a Brassfield. Her ancestors were slave owners. My ancestor was undoubtedly a slave. Watching the show renewed my interest in learning more about that line.

According to the episode, all Brassfields in America come from that first George who came over as an indentured servant at the age of nine  from England on the ship Loyalty. I have been able to trace my ancestor back to 1865 in Gibson County, Tennessee. So far I have found precious little about him even though his name is very unusual. In fact, I'm not sure what his name is. When I look at the original documents it looks like Danic or Domic. It has also been transcribed as David and Derick. That's part of the problem in finding him. But I do know that he was copper in color because I found the Freedmen's Bureau's marriage license when he married my great great grandmother Susie!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why I Keep Digging

Every now and then, after hitting a brick wall after brick wall, I question why I am still seeking answers to the seemingly unanswerable. Then I find this sliver of a clue and do the happy dance and keep on keeping on. I love genealogy because of the mysteries. I think if it was too easy, I would have stopped long ago. The obstacles makes me push harder to unearth new relatives and new information.

I also think genealogy has a tremendous value. In response to a post I wrote earlier, it is important to know your history. It can inspire you and be a road map of what you can accomplish and what to avoid.

I just found out that one of my ancestors, Florence Octavia Alexander, my grandmother's sister, was asked to dine at the table with Eleanor Roosevelt. I am learning more about Kenny J. Williams, my grandmother's niece. Her mother was Maude Alexander Jackson and wife of Rev. Joseph Jackson, president of the Northern Baptist Association from 1941 to 1990. At one time he was considered more influential than Martin Luther King. There's a treasure trove of anecdotes there.

In my surfing of the web I ran across this blog, "The Chicago History Journal" and a post dated in 2010.  The writer was researching Chicago authors and their lives. "When I read a book I like to know who is talking to me. To my chagrin, I found very little information about this accomplished scholar."

That scholar was my cousin, Kenny J., someone I knew personally but knew only a little better than the blogger. The few details that I have gather so far convinces me that someone needs to document her history. She had no children and was an only child so that leaves it up to her cousins.

That is also why I believe genealogy is important. Because no matter who we are, we matter. And it has to be more than who begat who, when they were born and when they died. It has to be stories of celebrations and cautionary tales of people who lived and loved.

Florence Octavia Alexander

Maude Alexander Jackson

Kenny Jackson Williams

Friday, February 17, 2012

Research tip

I discovered an important tip from Taneya Koonce (no relations?).

I have been loving that I can view death certificates, mostly for free, on I finally found the death certificate of my great grandmother Katie Warren there on the anniversary of her death this past December. She died December 30, 1930. And according to the death certificate, she didn't remarry after my great grandfather died, as legend had it.

Another death certificate has puzzled me. Or should I say two? My great uncle Howell Brasfield has two death certificates. After looking at them again, I'm not sure they are for the same person. It's just hard to believe that there were two black men named Howell Brasfield was born in Tennessee and died within miles and a month of each other in the same year.  But then the certificates has different birth dates, marital status and dates of death. They had different burial dates but was both buried in the small city of Maury City, Tennesee.

While I was there last year, I mentioned it to the archivists on staff. One was amazed at the possibility of two death certificates for one man, while another said it happened all the time. Since reading the article from Taneya, I know I now must go back to the Tennessee Archives and look at the originals. It is still wonderful to be able to access the certificates online, but "ain't nothing like the real thing, baby."


I found this obituary while searching for more info on my Warren ancestors.

Dyersburg Gazette
February 14, 1901

Aunt Kate Fowlkes, one of the best known negro women in Dyersburg, died last Sunday. She was truly an old time "black mammy" and was proud of the distinction of having nursed the first boy baby every born in Dyersburg - the late lamented Capt. Frank G. Sampson. She died at the ripe old age of 89 years. 

The name struck me because my great grandmother went by the name Kate Fowlkes at one time. This is not her but I wondered if it could have been her grandmother. This obituary was probably meant to honor a "truly old time black mammy" and that was suppose to be a good thing. But while they praised her, they didn't mention her family, the ones who most mourned her passing. The only clue left behind is "the late lamented Capt. Sampson," most likely the son of her slavemaster. I'm sure his obituary was effusive in comparison. Her brief tribute is very sad to me.