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More BillionGraves Fun

I’ve had quite a busy weekend! Yesterday, I was at the Nashville Zoo to learn more about the African American history at the site, and today, I went to Greenwood Cemetery to take pictures for BIllionGraves.

I’ve blogged about BillionGraves several times before here on my blog:

I guess you could say I’m a fan (I promise, I am not paid to say that LOL). But, I am a fan because I do feel it fills a niche in the genealogy world. The aim is simple – geo-tag as many cemetery headstones as possible with the ultimate goal to get to a BILLION entries. And, given that all I have to do is take the pictures and other people can transcribe them — all the better!

This weekend, the BillionGraves team was in Nashville to document as many burials as possible in a specific group of cemeteries that included Mt. Olivet, Mt. Cavalry, and both Greenwood Cemeteries (African American). Given my interest in Nashville African American history, I signed up to help out at Greenwood Cemetery. Of all the photos that were on the site before this weekend, I took 80% of them anyway (800/1000). So, this was right up my alley!

BillionGraves check-in tent

Today, over the course of about 2.5 hours, I was able to take 800 photos! I wish I could have stayed longer, but I am happy with the progress. BillionGraves’ Chief Technology Officer, Brian Moncure, took about 300 photos himself! It is definitely a good thing that our photos will be among the new ones soon posted on the site. In the picture below, I took photos of about every grave you see in the picture, on this side of the entrance road. That’s a lot of photos and I hope it will be of help to others researching their family history and looking for relatives in the cemetery. In fact, while I was there, a woman came in looking for her grandmother and couldn’t find her location – an app such as this one definitely helps solve that problem!

view of part of Greenwood Cemetery


Here is the view of my contributions today as reflected on the BillionGraves site – see all those green dots? That’s me!

Most of this green represents my pictures from today

I did not work in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, but due to help from an Eagle Scouts project, and other volunteers, half the cemetery was photographed just yesterday alone. I was also glad to have the opportunity to meet and speak with both Brian, and CEO, Hudson Gunn. The team has some interesting plans for the future and I am looking forward to seeing them develop! Thanks BillionGraves for organizing this event!

me with Hudson Gunn & Brian Moncure


blog post social media image

New on the Genealogy Bookshelf

I wanted to share the two newest additions to my personal library – well, one of them will stay with me and one won’t.

The first book is Kenyatta Berry‘s “The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy.” Kenyatta is a notable genealogist and one of the hosts of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow. The book is a guide for understanding where to begin in the search for your family history. The chapters cover getting started in the process and how to work with different record types, from census, court, immigration, military, ethnic records, DNA, adoption records, and more. I’m excited to get this because we will actually be putting it up for raffle at the upcoming meeting of the Nashville Chapter of the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society. It will be nice to see this book in the hands of one of our lucky attendees so it will not be staying in my personal library. I will definitely get a copy for myself though!

The second book is an exhibit book for a collection of life-sized color pencil drawings of 17 men from the 25th USCT, Company G. The portraits are currently on exhibit at Ft. Negley here in Nashville and I was truly captivated. The book is by Shayne Davidson and is titled “Civil War Soldiers – Discovering the Men of the 25th United States Colored Troops.” I wrote a post on the AAHGS Nashville blog with more info so I invite you to read it at

Have I mentioned how I catalog my personal library collection? It may be time to do a blog post about that! As I am on a quest for improved organization, ensuring my book collection is well organized has been part of that process. That’s a topic for another day.

My Newspaper Research Presentation

When I started working on my family history about 14 years ago, one of the resources I quickly developed a love for were historical newspapers. I found them fascinating as they are full of so many different types of information! When I reached a point where I wanted to give back to the genealogy community, old newspapers were where I quickly focused. Being in Nashville, Tennessee and having access to the Tennessee State Library & Archives (TSLA) meant that I could tap into their holdings and help share what I was finding. Fast forward to present day and I am utterly tickled that I was invited to present for the TSLA Workshop Series recently – the topic I chose – historical newspapers! Many thanks to TSLA and Friends of the TSLA for the invite.

The presentation, which I gave on January 26, 2019, is online for free if you are interested in viewing it. Visit the video web page here to download the handout. I give an overview of researching with historical papers, mostly in Tennessee, but there are strategies and suggestions that are helpful no matter which state you are in. Enjoy!

The Power of an Index

My graduate project when I obtained my library and information science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill was to index a rap music magazine. I came up with controlled terminology, created a database, and indexed issues of The Source, one of my favorite rap music magazines at the time. I was an avid reader of the publication, had years worth of issues in my collection, and was frustrated that it was difficult to ever find any specific article I needed because no traditional indexing databases had comprehensive or detailed coverage. 
Fast forward 20 years and I still LOVE creating indexes! There are so many records whose use would be made easier of there was an index. Sure, digitization and the posting of full-text materials are great and I am so grateful for all of them, but an index adds value because it can make locating specific content easier and it is easier to represent knowledge across the whole document (or set of documents). 
Today, for example, I’ve been sharing online an update I’ve made to one of the indexes – an index of students graduating from Tennessee colleges & schools. In this update, I added about 300 students who graduated from Lane College, a historically black college in Jackson (Madison County), Tennessee. If you’d like to explore, you can visit it at
And this is just one of my projects. For the past 8-9 years I have created and/or facilitated several genealogy indexing projects and in 2019, my primary genealogy goal is to further develop them all. The others include:
2019 – My Year of Indexing. I look forward to sharing more about them all throughout the year. 

What a Wonderful Seminar!

Yesterday, I was delighted to have the opportunity to present at the 30th Annual Genealogical Seminar of the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society. I gave a talk about using digital book collections (e.g., Google Books, the Internet Archive, and HathiTrust Digital Library) and principles in managing and organizing digital photographs. I had a blast!

I was one of 4 presenters and was in good company. Dr. David Dowell spoke about DNA and understanding inheritance patterns, Martha Gerdeman spoke about deeds and how to best use them for research, and Melissa Barker gave an overview of how archives can help you with your genealogy. It was a pleasure to interact with everyone who attended and I was pleased to see some longtime friends and acquaintances there as well.

Presenters – Martha Gerdeman, Melissa Barker, me, David Dowell – and we are with MTGS President, Bob Dennison.


Technology is a great interest of mine and I’m always pleased to have the opportunity to share approaches that may be of help. My next presentation is in January 2019 for the Tennessee State Library on using newspapers. Looking forward to that one as well!


He Was A Hero At Havelock

I received a most incredible email yesterday! Mr. Eddie Ellis Jr., A historian of Havelock, NC in Craven County, NC shared with me incredible details about a family member of mine. That family member is Rev. Wright L. Lawhorn and he was a brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, Samuel Becton Lawhorn.

We are fortunate to have in the family still, Samuel’s Family Bible. When I first started researching my family history, I received a photocopy of the bible pages that lasted names and dates of family members. The longest entry in the bible reads: “Rev. Wright Lawhorn the son of V Lawhorn born February 4, 1877 started preaching in 1902 at Havelock Mission now pastoring at Lancaster as of September 15, 1950,”

Excerpt from Lawhorn Family Bible

Excerpt from Lawhorn Family Bible

That was my first time “meeting” Wright and over the years, I’ve continued to research him and his family. Just last year, I wrote here on my blog about Wright’s second wife, Birdell, and how she had a yearbook annual dedicated to her. Shortly after posting that, I had a conversation with a family member who told me a bit more about Wright.

Wright apparently saved a train from crashing at some point in his life and as a reward, the train company gave him a job as a porter and gave him a pass to ride the train whenever he wanted, for free. The email I received yesterday from Mr. Ellis confirmed it!  Mr. Ellis had known about the story for several years, but until a couple of days ago, had only known the name of the man who saved the train as “McLawhorn” for that was the name printed in the paper. By happenstance, Mr. Ellis saw the name “Lawhorn” in a census records, started searching for Lawhorn, and found Wright and found my aforementioned blog post. So, Ellis sent me the newspaper articles describing what happened.

In July 1916 a hurricane came through the state and caused flooding in many areas. It seems Wright and his first wife, Vera, saw a train crossing that was washed away and so decided to try and warn any oncoming trains. The first train they saw was headed to Goldsboro returning from the beach and carried about 400-500 people. The train conductor saw Lawhorn waving him down, stopped, and was able to walk to nearby town and get assistance. The papers report that had Wright not been able to warn the conductor, the “loss of life would have been appalling.” Wright was lauded as a hero for his actions. The passengers of the train collected a purse for him of $25 or $31 dollars (depending on the newspaper account) which is equivalent to about $700 today. However, a later editorial chided the passengers for putting such little value on their lives and suggested the railroad company, Norfolk Southern Railroad, needed to give Wright a big check. Mr. Ellis thinks that may have been why they ended up giving Wright the job and subsequently, the free rides for life pass – a pass he noted was usually reserved for politicians and other important people.

Kinston Free Press newspaper, July 26, 1916

Kinston Free Press newspaper, July 26, 1916

Franklin Times Newspaper, July 28, 1916

Franklin Times Newspaper, July 28, 1916

I’m amazed to have these sources now to share with the family. What a treasure to have and learn more about the selfless act that  Wright and Vera did and the impact it had for those hundreds of people on the train. A “Hero at Havelock” indeed!

Progress Check: My Digital Photo Organization

At the beginning of the year, I shared my strategy for how I am approaching the management of my digital photos. I have been working more on it lately and I thought it time for a progress check! You can read more about my strategy here, but essentially, my approach is to rely on Google Photos as my “automatic camera roll” (b/c all of my pictures automatically upload to it), and then each month, move pictures out and into structured folders. As I place pictures in the structured folders, I use metadata tags to provide details about each photo. It’s been fabulous!

My focus right now has been to do a combination of organizing my recent photos, as well as go back through my digital photo archives and move them as well (you can read more about my organizational strategy here).  Let me tell you, this is a Herculean task! But, one for which I know is worth it, and one that is already reaping tremendous benefits in how easily I am able to locate specific pictures.

September was Save Your Photos Month, so I spent more time than usual working on my organization. As of this morning, I have just over 3,700 photos full organized and “cataloged” with detailed metadata. Just about half of them are pictures from 2018 so I’m at a good balance I think between old and new. Here is a glimpse of my folder:

My family photo archive organization

I plan to continue spending time each week to organize my photos. I’m also continuing to do my physical photo organization as well, so I’ll post an update about that later. I’m giving a presentation in November as part of a seminar for the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society and a portion of my talk will provide details about my strategy and how others can do it similarly. I am quite excited about that!


Recording the Church History

My father’s family is from Craven County, North Carolina, and one of the churches his family worships in is Alum Springs Church. Today, the church held a celebration and my great-aunt, who is a member there and heavily involved in church activities, asked if I could contribute to the program and research the history of the church graveyard. I was also interested in finding out if I might be able to uncover more information about the history of the church than what they knew.

Alum Springs Church

I was pleased to work on it and during my research, I learned that the Alum Springs Church had been given to local African American families after the civil war.

Robert Cox headstone

Originally a meeting house that belonged to Lane’s Chapel Methodist Church. Originally called Cox’s Meeting House, their church was burned during the Civil War and they built a structure to replace it but gave it to the local African American families once they decided to rebuild again.

As I researched the burials, the oldest one I could find documented was that of my 5th great-grandfather, Robert Cox. His headstone still stands and is still legible, showing he was born in 1823 and died in 1908. Robert’s daughter Cora, was the grandmother of my grandmother Cora. My cousin Cora is also named after the same daughter Cora, and many Cox descendants still worship in the church.

I was so delighted to have a chance to put together a short historical overview for the church! I contributed the write-up to the Craven County NCGenWeb site, so if you are interested, you can read it there.


I’m Running for USGenWeb National Coordinator

usgenweb logoWhenever I tell the story of how I got involved in doing family history research, an important element to that story is how much help I gained from the Washington County, North Carolina USGenWeb site. It was such a tremendously valuable resource as I was getting started with my family history that I knew I too had to become part of this project.  The USGenWeb Project is run by a dedicated group of volunteers who give their time to provide FREE genealogy resources for us all to use. The information you can find on each of the 3,000+ counties and parish websites (there is one site for each county/parish in the US) varies widely and you never know what tidbits of information you will find.

I’ve been a volunteer in the project for 11 years and currently hold a few leadership positions. This year, I decided to go for the top leadership position; I am running for the position of USGenWeb National Coordinator, and I would love your support! The USGenWeb National Coordinator (NC) manages the day-to-day happenings of the project and is the public representative. It is a 1-year appointment and the NC works collaboratively with the USGenWeb Advisory Board, along with continuous input from state and county coordinators, to move the project forward.

While only the volunteers within the project can vote, I would love your support if you’ve ever found a USGenWeb site helpful for your research. You can send an email to the coordinator(s) of the states/counties/parishes where you have research interests and see if they may be willing to vote for me.

Voting starts in July so keep your fingers crossed!


Adopting Jefferson County KYGenWeb

My volunteer activities with the national USGenWeb Project brings me great satisfaction as, through it, I am able to help others in their genealogy research.  If you are not familiar with the project, through the generous time donations of hundreds of volunteers, we have websites with free genealogy resources for all 3,000+ counties in the country.

I am most involved with the Tennessee and North Carolina groups (TNGenWeb and NCGenWeb respectively), but do have a few counties in other states. Last week, I was ecstatic to be able to adopt two more counties in Kentucky – including the site or Jefferson County, where Louisville is located.

I was so tickled to then find this shirt at the store the very next day so I had to get it to give my props to Muhammad Ali who was from Louisville.

Me in my Muhammad Ali shirt

I don’t have family roots to Louisville (though Kalonji did live in the area for several years), but I am excited about learning more about the city’s rich history.  I have started the process of redesigning the website, so here’s a sneak peek. If you have any roots in the area, let me know!

New design for Jefferson County KYGenWeb