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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 2016 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

Memories of High School (NCSSM)

I distinctly remember the day in the 10th grade when I decided I would apply to go to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (nickname: Science & Math). We were living in Charlotte, and I was browsing materials I’d picked up at school during a college fair. The NCSSM brochure looked appealing and I asked my mother if I could apply. If accepted, I would be living away from home my 11th and 12th-grade year as the school is located in Durham. I was excited about the possibility though and she, my father, and my stepmother all helped to ensure I could apply – and I was accepted! 

The friends I’ve known the longest are from my two years at Science & Math and I have nothing but the fondest of memories from my time there. It was absolutely incredible and an experience I will never forget. I am so grateful then to have the ability to walk down memory lane as the group has partnered with the school to digitize our yearbooks and just today, announced that issues of the student newspaper are now available!

The school’s newspaper is called The Stentorian and I found myself among the pages – notably, in class will entries! I love this one from a departing senior who left me  “…quarters and envelopes.” — ha! I wonder what I was mailing so much –  maybe letters home? 

Class will from the June 1, 1992 issue of The Stentorian

This is great. I am so tickled. These materials will definitely make good fodder as I scrapbook my childhood – will really help paint a more comprehensive picture of some of my memories. 

An Indexing Project Comes to Fruition

Between 2013-2015, one of the side projects I started was to create a master index of names that appeared in Loose Estate Files of North Carolina. The North Carolina Genealogical Society partnered with FamilySearch to help index the names that appeared in the files so that they could then become searchable on the FamilySearch website.

Well, I then started my own project – I created an index of names by county as a way to make it easier to identify people based on a geographic location. I also did it to make it easier to locate names with alternate spelling variations. I thought doing so would make great additions to the NCGenWeb county websites; another way for me to contribute as an NCGenWeb volunteer. I worked on the project over the course of two years and donated it to the NC Genealogical Society, who agreed it had value and they posted it on their website. I indexed 48 counties.

Back in 2015, I had to stop given a roadblock with FamilySearch, but today I am pleased to share that the NC Genealogical Society has updated what I started! They indexed another 45 counties and updated the index now that all the counties are posted to FamilySearch. If you have research interests in NC, you absolutely MUST check this out!  Hat tip to Katherine Benbow, a fellow volunteer in the NCGenWeb Project, for alerting me to the update!


My New Koonce Surname Study Site

A couple of weeks ago I shared that I’d joined the Guild of One-Name Studies. This is Week 6 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series and how apropos that this week’s prompt is “Favorite Name.”  Guess what name I choose? KOONCE! A perfectly timed prompt for launching my new site dedicated to the Koonce surname. My interest in my Koonce surname is, after all, what sparked my curiosity of those that came before me.  Thus, it is my favorite name.

I am very pleased with my new site.  The design is Template 15 of the TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Site-building software and I like the segmentation of the page. I have a link to my Mailchimp email distribution for updates I share with other Koonce researchers and family members.

The database has about 4,000 individuals and I’ve created sections for both white and black Koonce lineages along with indications to their regional areas. The Koonce to Koonce newsletters, published by my buddy John P. Koonce, are featured on the front page and I could not help but put a picture of myself browsing the newsletters as my “contact” picture.

My next step for the new site is to start re-attaching media files. I made a conscious decision not to transfer them in batch because I needed to do some cleanup. But the sources are all there so at least others will be able to see those.

I love working on my surname study. I enjoy connecting with other Koonces and researching Koonce families.  If you are a Koonce descendant, I’d love to hear from you!



In the Census: I’m Ready for 1950

A view of my presentation

Yesterday, I was delighted to present a session on Researching African American Family History & Genealogy on behalf of the Nashville Chapter of the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society. This is our fourth year partnering with Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage to conduct part of their Black History Month programming and it went well! We had a turnout of more than 60 people and during our post-presentation consultation sessions, had a chance to interact individually to help answer research questions.

This week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series prompt is “In the Census.” Well, a standard part of my presentations on getting started in your research is that the first set of records to go to are the US Census records. It never ceases to amaze me just how much information can be gleaned when working backward consecutively through the years. During the presentation, I explained how the 1950 census will be released in 2022 and I thought to myself – wow- we are so close!  I did quite a bit of transcription for the 1940 census and I am looking forward to hopefully being able to do the same for 1950.

I am already beginning to think about who I’ll search for first in the 1950 census and it will definitely be my grandparents:

  • maternal grandmother: Alice McNair – in April 1950, my grandmother had given birth to my uncle Stanley. He was born in Brooklyn, NY so I expect to find her and him there; he was only 6 weeks old on census enumeration day. The address on his birth certificate is 44 MacDonough Street in Brooklyn, so I expect to find them there.
  • maternal grandfather: Herman Robinson – my grandfather discharged from the US Navy in 1946 and would marry my grandmother in September 1950. I expect he will be in New York somewhere, but I do not know where. I wonder if he will be near his own mother, Lucinda Lennon Robinson – she would be living on Harlem River Drive in Manhattan.
  • paternal grandmother: Cora Mae Lawhorn –  she married my grandfather in 1951, so I expect to find her still living at home with her parents in Craven County, NC.
  • paternal grandfather: William Koonce Sr. – I also expect to find him still living at home with his parents – also in Craven County, NC.

I will then search for my great-grandparents as 7 of the 8 were still alive in 1950. Until the 1950 census is transcribed, we will need to navigate them by knowing the enumeration districts, so check Steve Morse’s One-Step site for those details.

1950 Craven County, NC Enumeration Districts

And so that I don’t forget my plan, this blog entry is going into my calendar for the first week of April 2022. Are you prepared?