Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Featherstons

From the evidence, Charles and Gene Featherston are my great-great-great-great grandparents on my mother’s paternal line. I know Charles lived because I know he died. I can’t prove when he was born or who his father was. I have suspicions but suspicions are only that. But I do know he died between 1788 and 1790 because I found him on the tax list of 1788 and his will was proved in 1790 in Brunswick County, Virginia. [1]  It has been frustrating when searching for him online. There are so many Charles Featherstons. Many people have linked him to a family in Henrico and Amelia Counties, Virginia. However, I think they are in error.

In 1765 he had been married to Gene Wright for five to ten years  and had fathered at least five children, maybe more, maybe with more than one wife.(1)[2]  According to Virginia courts, Charles and Gene’s kinsman Reuben Wright gave or was commandeered to give property as aid for the Revolutionary War.[3] This is more evidence that he was living in Brunswick County after 1776.
I have not been able to trace Charles back any farther. According to Goodspeed, Charles was born in England. However, evidence for when and where Charles was born eludes me. I am still searching.

Charles' children were Faith or Fathey, Charlotte, Carolus, Hezekiah and Jeremiah. I am uncertain of the birth dates for all except Jeremiah who was born in 1776. He also possibly fathered an older son named William. He is found on marriage records in Brunswick County in 1791. He is also claimed on some family trees. But we all know that doesn't prove anything.

In following up on the children I have found that Faith and Charlotte married two brothers, David and Burwell Grant. David even served and died in the Revolutionary war.  "June Court 1783 (Halifax County Virginia) (Entry at the very bottom of page - last 3 lines) ORDERED that it be Certified that Faith Grant is the Widow of David Grant deceased and that she is the Mother of a Son of the said David both of whom died in Service of the Southern Continental Army."

I don't believe her son was actually a soldier. A John Grant, a civilian,  died at Yorkfield.  In 1781, British general Lord Charles Cornwallis brought his army to Yorktown to establish a naval base. In the siege by American and French forces that followed, much of the town was destroyed. David's will was probated on September 21, 1781. I believe both men died as the result of the siege.

[1] Brunswick Co., Va., Will Book 5, pp. 342-43
[2] The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 23, No. 1 - Jan/Mar 1979 'Beware of the Charlotte Co., VA Marriage Bonds: The Featherston Family' by Mrs.Margaret T. Macdonald, Chapel Hill, NC.
[3] Virginia Military Records, Brunswick County, 1782.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Q & A from the grave

I'm back from a road trip to Mississippi. Although I didn't get a chance to get to the courthouses, the cemeteries had much to tell me. And visiting with relatives that I only knew through social media offered an insight into my paternal grandparents' life that dusty courthouses could not.

My greatest find was the tombstone of my great great grandmother. It gave a short family tree!

It reads "Winney Dear Born to Mary Cotten Dec. 10, 1824 Mother of Hiram and Richard Cain, Poley and Elizabeth Cotten Died July 10. 1903." 

I never knew my great great great grandmother's name. It gave me the date of Winney's birth and death, and it also let me know which surname Hiram used most of his life.

As is the case in genealogy, when one question is answered, another question appears. I am now trying to pinpoint Mary Cotten on the censuses. I believe Hiram Cain lived in Franklin County. I still don't know why the different surnames.  

I wish I had found my great grandfather's tombstone. It was probably there but many of the markers were undecipherable. I will return to Mississippi, probably next year, God willing. This time I will head to the courthouses and try my luck there.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Same Old, same old

I know I have complained before. It  is not an attractive trait to whine. However. I get so frustrated while researching when I come across information that I know can't be true or has not been verified.

It reminds me of this quote from a new cable docu-comedy, "Family Tree." It's about a man (played by one of my favorite actors, Chris O'Dowd)  who has become obsessed with tracing his family roots. His father doesn't share his interest. He blames the new passion of his son on a romantic break-up. Besides, he says, aside to the camera, "genealogy is like any other 'ology. Best left to the scientists."

In episode 2, the Chris O'Dowd character mistakenly believes his heritage must be Chinese because he is given a photo of his great grandfather that looks to him that he is Chinese. He finds out first that the picture does depicts  a Japanese person, not a  Chinese person. Next he learns that the photo is of his great-grandfather acting in the theater production of The Mikado as Nanki-poo. Even though that information was on the back of the photo, even though his grandfather is clearly Caucasian, O'Dowd still leaped to that erroneous conclusion.

That's the kind of assumptions I keep finding all the time online. And to be honest, I may have made a few of them myself in the beginning. And I may make a few more in the future. I remember speaking to a cousin who tried to tell me that her great grandfather was a Dunnegan and not our shared ancestor, a Warren. I looked at the same census she used as her source and I realized that the census was in error. Her great grandmother, who had divorced our great grandfather, had left her children with her parents. On the census those children were listed as sons and daughters, not grandchildren of Dunnegan. It was an obvious deduction but when looking at the ages and other evidence, it was apparent to me that the census was wrong.

I'm working hard to get my family history updated in time for the family reunion this September and I keep getting sidetracked by contradicting information.'s new Family tree addition to the site is the newest culprit in spreading wrong info. Just like, anyone can add information without sources to back up their data. And many times if they have a source it is from another source that was not verified.


That was my primal scream. I had to vent. Now back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I Seek Dead People

The Warrens circa 1965
(Introduction - Tapestry of Tangled Ties)

It has been over 15 years since I began researching my family roots. I’ve hit my head on the brick wall many times, stopped, stuttered, and began again. Sometimes I wonder what keeps me going when the information has seemed to dry up or when others question my tenacity. It is a combination of many things.

I am just plain nosy as my family will attest. I am passionately curious about my own history. Why I am that way is partly why I continue to research—it’s in my genes. But where I got it from, I’m still not sure. So I keep searching.

And because it’s in my genes, there are others out there who share my curiosity gene and I do this for them. Inquiring minds want to know, as my uncle Johnny used to say, so I want to help them.

When I learn something new it is such a rush. It’s my geeky Achilles heel. I absolutely love it. It is the avocation that fills my time and mind and crowds out all mundane and/or troubling thoughts. 

So I continue. I originally planned on just updating my first book, “Say My Name,” but I kept finding new data and vital statistics kept changing. Therefore, I am writing this new version of my family history with some information from the aforementioned book but also with all the new stuff I’ve learned. I do this knowing that things will still need to be updated. A genealogist’s work is never done. Researching a family tree is the work of many lifetimes.

 The Cottens circa 1986

Friday, April 19, 2013

How Far Back Can I Go?

(Prologue -Tapestry of Tangled Ties)

That is the question everyone interested in genealogy ask. It is my desire to go back as far as Africa. I probably need a genie in a bottle to complete that quest. As a Black American, my ancestry is hidden from me in a way that is not hidden from other Americans. Since my ancestors were slaves, their names were not on the census before 1870. It is not impossible to go back farther if I can identify the slave owners but that is difficult too. Many slaves wanted to distance themselves from their lives as property. They changed their names. They didn’t talk much about that time with their innocent descendants. White descendants of slave owners are also unwilling to share that part of their family history.

However, once the slave owners are identified, it is possible to find records on file because slaves were part of a financial transaction, as heinous as that is. I have the receipt of the purchase of my great-great-great grandfather Solomon Koonce who was sold to Isaac Koonce of Haywood County, Tennessee in January 1840..  I have also deducted that Solomon was owned for a period of time by Francis Nunn who died intestate in Lauderdale County, Tennessee around 1837.

I may be in the minority but I am also interested in my White ancestors. I am the sum of all of my parts. In looking for those ancestors I am learning more about my country’s history and psyche. That is also part of my history—slavery, the Civil War, the American Revolutionary War, the making of a nation. I plan on studying that too, to put my history into the larger context.

I can go back much farther on some of my white ancestors. So far I am able to go back at least 12 generations. I have found the link between me and one of my favorite writers, Jane Austen and even closer, the link between my family and Reba McEntire. This is exciting to me. I am not ashamed at embracing all my of heritage because I do not deny my ancestry regardless of color or nationality.

This is what I attempt to do in updating my family history. The surnames that I will be following are Koonce, Warren, Featherston, Cotten, Alexander, Brassfield,  Tarpley, Elmore, Alexander, Saunders, and Wright. There may be more as I learn more. I will also research the locations where they lived--Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and maybe others as I learn of them. Hopefully, one of those locations will be somewhere specific on the continent of Africa.

Untangling the Lines

I am updating the family history that I wrote in 2003. I've learned a lot more in the last ten years. Some things need to be corrected. Facts need to be added. And unfortunately, close relatives mentioned in the first book have died. 

When I wrote my first book, three times I lost the data on my computer. Luckily, I did have a hard copy so it wasn't lost forever. This time around I am also going to document it online under this blog. That way if the worst does happen and my computer loses my copy, it will still be online. I still plan on printing my findings as a hard copy book and probably an ebook under the title "Tapestry of Tangled Ties." Yeah, I am aware of the alliteration.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

John Alexander, Civil War Veteran

My paternal great great grandfather John Alexander  enlisted at the end of the Civil War in February, 1865 at New Orleans, Louisiana.  I am trying to find out what happened at that particular time that allowed him to do so. Up until then he was a slave. 

John was first mustered into Company G 77th Infantry USCT in March, 1865 and then Company K 10th Heavy Artillery USCT, October, 1865. He served until he was mustered out in February, 1867,  his troop being the last to be mustered out in the Civil War. 

He applied for an invalid pension in 1890. According to his Civil War pension applications, he was run over by a wagon while he was unloading vessels on Ship Island, Mississippi. The injury to his hip and ankle caused him to limp for the rest of his life. 

I wanted to know more about his life during the war so I did a little research on Ship Island. Ship Island was a stretch of land twelve miles off the coast Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. The Island has since been halved because of  Hurricane Katrina.

My initial information comes from James Hollandsworth Jr. and the Mississippi History Now website

At the beginning of the War, Ship Island was considered a desirable piece of geography because of its proximity to Texas, Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans.  The Confederates evacuated it in 1861 and the Union held it to the end of the war. When New Orleans fell in 1862 to the Union, the garrison on Ship Island was reduced to one regiment of infantry, the 13th Maine. In December, 1862, eight companies of this regiment were transferred to other forts, leaving just two companies. On January 12, 1863, seven companies from a new regiment of Colored Troops, the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards, joined them. Unfortunately, this mixture of black and white troops was an explosive one, and within a week racial tension broke out into disputes between the men from Maine and the black soldiers from Louisiana. The two companies of white soldiers were withdrawn and the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards remained as the primary garrison for Ship Island until the end of the war.

Sunday April, 14, 2013,  the 150th anniversary of the 2nd Regiment, Louisiana Native Guards' successful assault on a confederate naval base at Pascagoula, Mississippi will be commemorated on Ship Island. 

The island once “considered the most healthy place on the Coast & would be a good place to establish a general hospital,” changed after the white troops left. An officer with the Sanitary Commission wrote an unfavorable report of the health conditions on the island and ended it with a remarkably understated conclusion.

“The wretched condition of Ship Island, a barren, desolate sand-spit, left free for the most part to alligators and such reptiles as abound in the swamps and lagoons of that region; the painful and variable climate; the sufferings of the men from diarrhea, influenza, and rheumatism; the badness of the food, which was of salt meat (no fresh meat being issued); the badness of the water, and the wretched system of cooking, made the presence of the Sanitary Commission not undesirable.”

Ship Island was used as a prison and detention center almost from the beginning. The first civilian detainees there from New Orleans were sent there in June 1862. Ship Island was also a prison for Union soldiers convicted of serious crimes. Confederate prisoners, more than 1,200 Confederate captives from New Orleans, arrived October 1864, The number of Confederates on Ship Island peaked in April 1865 when 3,000 prisoners taken with the capture of Mobile arrived. This would have been during the time that John was there. By May, all of the prisoners of war were sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi to be exchanged for Union soldiers. By June 8, 1865, there were no prisoners — Confederate, Union, or civilian — left on the island. 

I’m not sure how long John stayed on the Island. He was transferred to the 10th Heavy Artillery in October, based in New Orleans, until he was mustered out.