In my last post, I expressed overjoyed delight at having learned that Ancestry had a new database of original death certificates from North Carolina that covers 1909-1975; a huge deal for me because I guesstimate that at least 70% of my personal family tree research is NC based. True to form for me, I spent hours last night playing around in the database and found all kinds of information – not only for my own tree, but some others I’m working on as well.
As I was getting ready to retire for the evening, I remembered that I also needed to do search that has proven elusive for me. However, I was too tired to pursue it, so put it off for today. Good thing! My excitement at what I found would have probably kept me from going to sleep!
In February last year, I posted about my experience in trying to determine who the parents are of my great-grandfather, Barfield Koonce. I had a chain of information that led me to believe a Caroline Koonce was his mother. So, since that time, I’ve had her as his mother in my gedcom, but I’ve never felt 100% certain I had it right. Well, tonight I know that it is right and it is because of the new database of death certificates.
To recap what I knew about Barfield:
- In census records, I never find him with parents. Only with grandparents James & Isariah Koonce (sp?) in 1880 when he was a teenager.
- In search of more about Barfield, I spoke to my great-aunt, one of his daughters about him. She did not know who his parents were, but knew that he had a brother named Richard. I also spoke to the wife of one of Barfield’s sons as far as names and details go, she was able to tell me that Barfield had a sister named Agnes. Who were this Richard & Agnes? They were not with Barfield in the 1900 census and by 1910 Barfield had started his own family.
- I was then able to locate a death certificate for a Richard Koonce that was about the right age to be a brother to Barfield and I knew from hand-searching the census was the only black Richard Koonce in the two counties most likely (Craven & Lenoir counties). His death certificate said his mother’s name was Caroline Koonce and his father’s name was Mike Davis.
- Because I knew from the 1880 census that James Koonce, Barfield’s grandfather, had a daughter named Caroline, I connected the dots and “placed” Barfield as her son in my gedcom. This would have to do for now until I had more information.
Every now and then, I’d try looking for Barfield’s sister Agnes, but did not get any results. As I look back over things now, with more preserverance (like looking at the households of EVERY black Caroline or Agnes in the counties) I may have found it, but I just had not gotten around to doing that. With the death certificates, I got excited b/c it turns out that searching the database also searches maiden names and parent names and includes them by default in your search results. So, if i were to type in Caroline Koonce, I would get her record and then the records of any death certificates she was named on. Sweet.
What I did today:
- I began by searching the death certificates for “carol* koonce” and no other limits. I got 8 results. A couple of them were white Koonce’s that I know of as I’ve been tracking the white Koonce families as well. The last result was for a black man named Solomon West (1906-1960). I decided to take a look.
- Solomon’s death certificate lists his mother as Caroline Koonce and father as George West. The excitement begins..
- Since Solomon was born in 1906, I look for him in 1910. I find him with parents George C. & Caroline West along with three siblings — an older sister named AGNES, an older sister named Luvenia and a younger sister named Jannie. The excitement continues — here is an Agnes who had a mother named Caroline Koonce, same as I’d suspected for Barfield! Also, from census mortality schedules, I knew that James Koonce had a daughter named Jane that died at 8 years of age. So, it would make sense for Caroline to name a daughter after her deceased sister.
- I tracked George & Caroline through the 1920 and 1930 census and see that by 1930 George is a widow; Caroline was there in 1920, so she died between 1920 and 1930.
- Now that I was looking for a Caroline West, I decided to check my staple NC death database first – the database that Ancestry has based on an index of death records only. Found a Caroline West that died in 1928, but according to the index, she was born in 1890. This does not match what I knew of Solomon’s mother from the census records, which place her closer to the birth year of when James’ daughter Caroline was born. It is worth noting that Craven County, NC, where Caroline West died, has their index of births, deaths & marriages online going back to the early 1900s, but Caroline West was not present in that index.
- Back to the death certificates database I go. Two seconds later, I found her – Caroline West died August 12, 1928. Her husband is listed as George West. Her age is listed as 38. But, this obviously is not right given census records so I can discount the age. Parents of Caroline are – JAMES & ISARIAH KOONCE! The same couple where Barfield in enumerated as grandson in 1900.
I tell you, I could hardly be any happier than to finally know that I’ve documented Barfield’s mother. Think this meets the genealogy proof standard?
I’m still not sure about his father – whether or not Mike Davis (Richard’s father) is his or not. This opens all kind of new research avenues for me now — Caroline had several other children so there are many more people to research. If I’m lucky enough, maybe I’ll find someone who remembers more.
Thank you Ancestry for this database! Now, you need to get to work on Tennessee’s 🙂