Barfield Koonce (1886-1953)

I attribute my initial interest in knowing my family history to my great-grandfather, Barfield Koonce. Barfield lived from March 15, 1886- April 10, 1953. I first learned of Barfield at the funeral of my aunt Ella’s funeral in 1984 when I was 9 years old. One of the headstones in the cemetery was Barfield’s and I very clearly remember my father telling me that Barfield was his grandfather. My father never knew him, having been only a year when Barfield died. When my grandmother died a couple of years ago, she was buried in the same cemetery so I was able to take a picture of Barfield’s grave.

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From the family history perspective, you’ll notice that Barfield’s tombstone says he was born in 1884, but all census records as well as his WWI Draft Registration Card, indicate he was born in 1886. He died in 1953 as a result of a fall, a fact I learned when I received his death certificate last year.

I believe Barfield to be the son of a Caroline Koonce, but am not as sure about his father. Barfield married Josephine Holloway around 1904 according to census records and they would go on to have 11 children. Two of their daughters are still living.

Happy Birthday to my great-grandfather!

Church of God In Christ – Part 1

My grandmother, Alice McNair Robinson, used to go to church quite regularly and was a long-time member of the Church of God In Christ in Brooklyn, New York.  Among the things my mother gave me after we moved grandma into her nursing home was this brochure from the church from 1954.

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In typical fashion for my grandmother, her handwriting appears all over this brochure. She wrote on everything! On walls in her bedroom even! And, you should see some of the pages my mother scanned for me of her address book. :-)

But, I am finally getting around to scanning this brochure and taking steps to add the information to my files.  The brochure was for the 12th anniversary service of the church and Rev. Ithiel Clemmons was at this time the youth leader.  Rev. Clemmons died in 1999, but I do remember having met him when I was younger. My mother was a long-time member of Church of God In Christ in Greensboro, NC when we lived there when I was a child. I even have some pictures of me when I was young outside the “old church” and then they built a new church. I have to dig those pictures out.

But, back to the brochure, on the inside is an schedule of services for the week – Monday thru Friday, and many names are mentioned.

  • Monday night – Missionary Circle Night: Mrs. B. Fennell, Mr. D. Wiggins, Mrs. DuPree, Speaker was Elder Richard Britten & Prof. F.H. Madison
  • Tuesday night -  Nurse Unit Mothers’ Board Night – Mrs. E. Roberson, Miss Faith Carter, Mother Harris, Speaker was Minister Thomas Nealy
  • Wednesday night – Purity Class & Teenagers Night – Mrs. V. Carmichael,  Mrs. A. Warner, Mr. Walter Nealy, Speaker was  Elder Mack W. Ritter Jr.
  • Thursday night - Senior Choir, Y.W. Group Night – Miss D. Harrell,  Mrs. D. Everett, Miss Carrie Clemmons, and Miss P. Todd.
  • Friday night – Serving Circle Junior and Senior – Mrs. M. Norman, Mrs. Fountain, Miss Ida Parson and the Speaker was Rev. J. Clemmons of Zion Tabernacle, Baltimore, Md.

The Board of Elders for the church were C.W. Daniels, J.P. Nealy, J. Haynes, C. Roberson, G. Sutton,  and J. Norman Jr.  The lead reverend was Rev. Frank Clemmons, who was Ithiel’s father.

Again, my grandmother’s handwriting on the program indicates who was still at the church, who had moved to their own church, who had died, etc.  I do not know when she wrote these extra notes, but they are informative in any case.

I have much more to share regarding this church.  I will interview my mother tomorrow and get some more oral history from her so I can capture some of hers and my grandmother’s experiences. More to come…

HBCU Digital Collection

Yesterday, I learned of a new digital collection being offered online. The HBCU Digital Collection was launched last month and is the beginning of a digital archive of materials from 10 historically black colleges and universities.  The information in the Digital Library contains a variety of items – including “campus charters, student yearbooks, early campus architectural drawings, graduating classes, famous alumni and churches” and more.  Currently, the institutions participating include:

  • Alabama State University
  • Atlanta University Center
  • Bennett College for Women
  • Fisk University
  • Grambling State University
  • Hampton University
  • Southern University
  •  Tuskegee University
  • Tennessee State University
  • Virginia State University

Given my interest in the history of blacks in Nashville, I was happy to see Fisk & TSU represented.  I went to the site to do some searching and found quite a bit of interesting material that would add a family tree if your ancestor was represented in those images. Fisk especially seems to have a concentration of yearbook materials. I definitely plan to spend some time looking through the site.

Photo Restoration

I’ve just had occasion to send another photo restoration order off to George Geder and I realized that I’m not sure I’ve posted before about my experiences using him for enhancing my family photos. First of all, I have to say that GEORGE ROCKS! I found him through a post he made at Afrigeneas and I’ve used his services to restore three of my older family photos. As time and budget allow in the future, I have other pictures I’d love to send his way.

But, let me share one of the pictures he restored for me. This is a picture of my grandmother, Alice, with three of her brothers. Her older brother, Lorenzo is not pictured here, not sure where he was, but here she is with Fred, Curtis & Abe Jr. I like this picture so much because my brother looks so much like my grandmother does in this picture. But, I was very happy with George’s work, so if I may make a shameless plug for him – if you need any photo restorations, he’s your man.

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The Importance of Reaching Out

Five minutes ago I just received an email that my grandmother’s uncle, Robert “Boo Air” Kilpatrick, died earlier today. BooAir was the last surviving son of Randolph & Mary Harvey Kilpatrick. Randolph and Mary had 13 kids to my knowledge, and now only one of their children is now living.

BooAir was about 80 years old and I began talking with him a couple of years ago after my grandmother died. She was a daughter of his sister Pearlie Mae. He was always willing and happy to speak with me and never hesitated to tell me about the Kilpatrick family history. At 80 years old, he was a sharp as could be and remembered fine details. He gave me more family names and more branches to research and I only wish I had spoken with him more. He was a young boy when his grandmother Violetta died, and after I made connections with a distant cousin last year who told me she had heard Violetta was Indian with black hair down her back, I called him up and he confirmed that yes, that was indeed the case.

I am so saddened that I will no longer get to speak with him.

Statistics and Genealogy

Made a post over on my blog for the USGENWEB county site I coordinate.  If anyone is interested in seeing what kind of data I get from Google Analytics, you might find it interesting.  I don’t see very many blogs discuss use data – it can be a very important source for tracking how your site is used.  Besides, with graphs and charts, it is also just neat to look at :-)

This does remind me though to share one of my dreams for my blogs. Over the past few weeks, I have been contacted by several researchers with shared connections either to my family, or to families I’m researching and posted information about.  These experiences embody for me exactly why I have these blogs in the first place; to post information so that others may find it useful and to establish connections.

With WordPress, I have the ability to see what search terms people are entering to land on my blog and everytime I look at the keywords I certainly feel that there are missed opportunities for connecting.  In my professional world, one of the blogs I read is that of John Battelle, an expert in the implications of “search.”  In one of his prior posts (which I cannot find right now…), he discusses a mechanism to reach out to visitors to your blog by presenting them with a custom pop-up box based on what keywords landed them there in order to help them locate relevant content on your site more effectively.  This is something I would love to do on my blogs in order to try and engage even further.

For example, on my main genealogy blog, in the past 30 days some of the searches that have brought people to my blog include:

  • sons of the confederacy” — probably b/c of my post describing the DNA testing approach I’m taking for Kalonji’s ancestry.
  • william blount mcclellan“  — again, Kalonji related. I believe someone in WB’s family was the father of Kalonji’s great-grandfather — could a possible descendant be one of these searchers? I may need a male descendant for comparative DNA testing — was this person the one?
  • browning genealogy” — this is a database of newspaper and obit information out of Evansville Indiana that I have blogged about as it is WONDERFUL resource.  Are these other genealogists interested in Evansville too?
  • the battle plantation” – my recent post of my ancestors connection with this family. I actually had someone contact me who may also have connections to this plantation – but is he the only one who searched it? I doubt it.
  • family tree of honus wagner” — I have a friend who’s ancestors have connections to him that I’ve blogged about before. Is the person who searched and visited me a descendant? how cool would it be to provide more context to Honus’ upbringing that my friend’s grandfather could share?

All missed opportunities for connections in my mind. Of course you could argue that all the person searching has to do is leave a comment, but actively engaging them would be cool.  One day I’ll get to it and let you know how it turns out.

A Little Piece of History

Very near to where I live right now is an old house with a historic marker out front. Next door is an old cemetery with some beautiful tombstones.  I’ve been driving by this house for months, always curious what the marker says and who is in the cemetery.  So, yesterday, Kalonji and I finally stopped.

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I did not take a picture of the main house, but as we drove around the house, we realized that yes, someone did live there and yes, we were probably trespassing! I felt so bad. But,  then I thought – they must get people doing that every now and then…   The cemetery next door was in fact the DeMoss family cemetery. I took some pictures just in case it was not on FindAGrave, but to my delight the whole cemetery was there.  There are several obelisks, one of which is Abraham DeMoss (1779 – 1849) himself

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I noticed that many of the men were masons, and only a few feet from the house is a Mason Lodge that I learned was built in 1855.  I’m sure the DeMoss family was involved in it’s founding.

Some Google searching revealed several sites with some information about the family – the Bellevue Harpeth Historical Association has recently restored Abraham’s father’s log cabin house and are working on a publication about the DeMoss family.  One tidbit about this family that I am particularly interested in was that I read that Abraham was killed in his dining room just after the Civil War by a former slave.  I must learn more about this….

Ancestry Family Beta

I am apparently late to the game, having just discovered a feature at Ancestry.com that has been available for almost two months now! But, I just discovered their Family Beta view.  This is exactly the kind of enhancement I’ve been looking for them to add! One of my biggest frustrations when working with trees on Ancestry was the lack of seeing a descendant tree.  I have come to rely on a descendant tree view quite heavily for my own tree and genealogy projects as it really helps to see that graphical represenatation of where people are in a tree.  With the Family Beta view,  they  have made that now possible. Wonderful!

In other genealogy happenings, the time I’ve had to spend on doing genealogy over the past week has pretty much been focused on the tree of James Carroll Napier, a prominent black man from Nashville and trying to connect the dots to a researcher who is of Napier’s from Alabama. I’ll post a much more extended story of that process later on, but you can read a little bit of it over on my Black Nashville History & Genealogy blog.

Life on the Battle Plantations

With Ancestry’s current focus on the African-American records they have in their collections, I’ve been taking another look through what is available. Tonight, I thought I would look and search through some of the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narratives. The full-text of the slave narratives are also available on the Library of Congress (LOC) website.

I found a slave narrative as told by a woman named Adaline Johnson. She was born near Jackson, Mississippi, but her mother was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. They were slaves of the Battle family – Jim, Joe, Hue, and Marmaduke Battle are mentioned. I’ve been keen to start tracing the Battle family tree, as I believe my 3rd great-grandmother’s parents were Della Battle & Allen Wimberly, and Della was a slave on the Battle plantation in Edgecombe County. Adaline mentions in her narrative that the Battles owned three plantations full of slaves (which I have learned on my own from census records), and were in Tarboro & Rocky Mount in that county.

Adaline’s accounts of the Battle men are mixed – some were kinder than others. What makes this slave narrative of particular interest to me is the description of the experience with the Battles. If I ever get around to writing any kind of “formal” document on the history on this branch of my family, this would help add some historical context to life as a slave on the Battle family plantations.

I also recognized something else in her narrative. She describes the happenings of a slave named Will (referred to as “Big Will”) who killed an overseer. Big Will was apparently a big and strong guy b/c he could “do as much as any two” other slaves and the family had for him a “big axe” and a “big hoe.” Well, the new overseer the Battle family had got into some kind of altercation with Big Will and Big Will killed the overseer. Marmaduke Battle had Will put in jail, but when his uncle, Jim Battle got back into town, he sold Big Will and Adaline reports that no one ever saw him again, but his family stayed and worked on the plantation. As I read this, I realized I had heard of this Will in an article I found about a year ago.

There were court proceedings for what happened and is reflected by the case North Carolina vs. Negro Will. An April 1920 article by George Gordon Battle from the Virginia Law Review goes into great detail about the case.

On January 22, 1834, Will killed the overseer, Richard Baxter. Another slave named Allen had gotten into an argument with Will about a hoe. Allen went and reported it to Baxter. Baxter went to go confront Will. They argued, but no one heard what was said. Will got mad and started to walk away and Baxter shot him in the back “the whole load lodged in the prisoner’s back, covering a space of twelve inches square”, but Will kept running and made it to the woods. Will was pursued by both Baxter and other slaves and in a scuffle with slaves and Baxter ended up wounding Baxter in the thigh, in addition to a puncture in his breast, a wound about four inches long and two inches deep on his right arm above his elbow. Among Baxter’s last words were a comment stating that he should have listened to his wife (who advised him not to get involved in the dispute between Will & Allen).

At trial, Will was found guilty of felony murder. But the case was appealed and taken to the NC Supreme Court as James Battle wanted the rights of his slaves protected and hired Bartholomew F. Moore for $1000 to lead the defense. The court found Will justified in resisting and defending himself and that what happened was not murder, but manslaughter. Gordon Battle states that the judge concedes,

“though with reluctance, the cruel rule of law that there is no limit of the authority of the master over the slave, so long as his life is spared. But the judge is determined that the law shall be so administered as to promote justice and not injustice, and so we see him invoke the principle that the master may so treat a slave, even though that treatment be not technically a crime, as to justify the slave in resisting the master even into death.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court would then go on to serve notice to all slaveholders in the state that while masters had the right to punish slaves “in order to maintain discipline,” slaves too had the right of self-defense if the punishment was exercised with unreasonable cruelty. These events happened three years after the Nat Turner uprising.

At the end of the article, George describes his relationship to the case. James Battle was his paternal grandfather, and one of the three presiding judges on the case, Joseph J. Daniel, was his maternal grandfather. George states that Will was sent to the a plantation in Mississippi (owned by Battle or Daniel – that is not clear), where Will killed another slave and was hung for that act. Will’s wife, Rose, came back to NC. Gordon remembers her often saying

“Will sho’ly had hard luck. He killed a white man in North Carolina and got off, and then was hung for killing a nigger in Mississippi.”

A slave narrative and a court case that intersect with my own family history.