Author Archive: Taneya Koonce

Keeping up with the Napiers – Part 1

Even though the people involved in this post are more appropriate for my Black Nashville blog, I’m deciding to post it here because this project has been a highly complex task for me for which I am really having to use my research & analytical skills.

I have previously posted a little bit of the background, but essentially, I’ve been helping a couple of people who have roots in Alabama try to figure out their Napier connections and possible association with James Carroll Napier. A month later, we still do not have a conclusive chain of association, but the trail is slowly coming together.

This is the challengeTom emailed me as his family history indicates his ancestor, Sophia Napier Watkins was a niece of James Carroll Napier (hereafter referred to as JC) . Sophia Napier Watkins was from Lawrence & Colbert counties in Alabama while JC was born in Dickson County, TN and lived in Nashville (Davidson county) during his lifetime.

Here’s a TN-AL map that shows the various counties. For reference, Alabama lines up with central Tennessee.


The first thing that I had to do was further map out the family tree of JC to look for any possible connections to Alabama. My research found that he was the grandson of a wealthy white man of Dickson County, TN who was big in the iron industry, Elias Wills Napier (hereafter referred to as EW). I learned that the white Napier line goes back to the Napier family from Virginia. Without going into the details, EW’s family was spread throughout Dickson, Hickman and in some part, Davidson counties of TN. The family tree I have for JC along with a collection of census records and other misc documents and sources does not seem to suggest that he had any siblings that could have fathered Sophia’s father (her mother is known). However, there is a slight chance that if JC’s father William Carroll Napier (hereafter referred to as WC) fathered children early in life (like around age 15/16), he in theory could have had a son that would have been old enough to be Sophia’s father (if he in turn fathered a child at around age 15/16). We still aren’t really sure about this. But, I have been focusing on seeing what connections there could be that may put JC, WC or Elias in/near/around where Sophia was at in Alabama.

One tidbit I learned early on in the research was that Elias W. Napier had land in Alabama. His will indicates this much. It was not until tonight however that I feel like I have a good clue as to where — looks like he may have an association with Franklin County, AL (which, if you look at the map is adjacent to both Lawrence & Colbert counties, for there is an Elias W Napier enumerated in Franklin County, AL in 1830 and JC’s grandfather Elias appears to be missing from enumeration in Dickson County, TN in 1830 where I would have expected him. I have looked in the households of 5 of EW’s brothers in Dickson County, TN in 1830 and he wasn’t living with any of them – none of the ages/genders match.

Over in Lawrence County, Tom’s family was owned by a Dr. John Smith Napier (hereafter referred to as JS) was the major Napier slaveholder in Lawrence County, Alabama. A tax assessment document of JS’s shows the members of Tom’s family as slaves of his and names match the names that had been passed down through his family oral history. In my research, I learned that JS and EW were very distant cousins. JS’s grandfather Champion Napier, was a 3rd cousin to EW. Seems quite distant to me, however…..

  • I read that JS received some of his medical training in TN (JS was not from TN, he was from VA)
  • JS has a daughter whose middle name is Araminta and EW has a niece named Araminta. I so far do not have any indication that Araminta was a family name, so I wonder if this was more of a personal closeness among families?
  • Sophia had a brother named Thomas and EW had a brother, son and grandson named Thomas. Understandably, Thomas is a common name and this may not mean anything but I’m trying to look at the clusters

I need to next see if I can pinpoint exactly where in Franklin county EW may have been for it is plausible that EW’s land could have been very near JS’s land given the proximity of the two counties. If that turns out the be the case, that would make an even stronger case for connecting JC to Sophia somehow.

And, to add to the mix, EW’s son, WC married a woman named Jane Elizabeth Watkins; she was the daughter of the white slaveowner William Watkins and one of his slaves. Watkins is also the surname of the man that Sophia Napier married. I have not looked at the white Watkins family too extensively yet, but there is slave owner named Watkins in Franklin County, Alabama in 1850 & 1860. Could this Watkins be associated with the Watkins that EW would have known?

A lot of theories could be developed from what I know at this stage. One that I currently fancy is that JC had a sibling ended up on EW’s property down in Franklin County and may have fathered Sophia who ended up just across the county line on JS’s property.

If you aren’t tired of reading yet, here’s one more tidbit to close with. About two weeks after being contacted by Tom, I had another researcher email me to say that his family’s oral history had always held that his ancestor was either a daughter or some other relative of JCs. This particular ancestor does not show up in the “documented” family tree of JC — so perhaps there are several unaccounted for Napiers out there? I have a lot of work ahead of me to figure it out, but honestly, I feel that if we keep looking and keep researching, we may just one day find an answer.

In Part 2, I’ll share my other Napier mystery. There may be a chance that Sophia had a brother named Johnson and one of Johnson’s descendants is trying to verify the associations between JS and another cousin of his, John Wesley S. Napier of Marengo County, Alabama. I should point out that both Tom and Anna (the descendant of Johnson) have been sharing quite a bit of family history and information with me and make me feel like family!

More to come later…

A Koonce Connection

Back in January, I received an email from Jennifer. Jennifer is another African-American Koonce descendant and she found my blog through some internet searching. She blogged about this on her own blog, But Now I’m Found.

I was quite happy to hear from another black Koonce descendant! Her ancestry goes back to a slave named Solomon Koonce, who was the slave of an Isaac Koonce from Jones County, North Carolina – the exact same county my Koonce ancestry goes back to. Isaac Koonce moved to Haywood County, Tennessee around 1827 with his wife Rachel and his sister, Alice and her husband, David Nunn. Jennifer even has a bill of sale for Solomon.

Since “meeting” Jennifer and learning her ancestry, I’ve been interested in trying to figure out the exact relationship of her Isaac Koonce to the white Koonce family I’m tracking. Right now, I have a couple of possible slaveholder candidates for who may have owned my ancestors, James Koonce and/or his mother Hannah Koonce. Right now, one of my top families is that of John Council Bryan Koonce.

In 1870, my 3rd great-grandfather James Koonce is living in Township 4 of Craven County, NC, which is just across the county line from Beaver Creek, Jones County, where JCB Koonce was the only slaveholder in that region of the county. However, at this point, I cannot definitely rule out a few of his cousins as possible slaveholders – I need to look more closely at the ages of their slaves in the 1850 & 1860 slave census records.

But, after some investigation, I have finally tied Ii think) Jennifer’s slaveowner Isaac, to the larger Koonce family of the area. If the lineages of others I have found online and compared are to be trusted, Isaac Koonce & JCB Koonce were 2nd cousins. If anyone is interested in seeing the whole descendancy view from their shared great-grandfather, George Koonce, you can see that here.

I’m so glad to have made this connection! Here’s to hoping that Jennifer and I continue to make more progress. I’ve already informed her I may be crashing her Koonce family reunion! :-) Family or not, I feel connected already.

Update: Since I mentioned that I needed to look at the ages of slaves in the 1860 and 1850 census records, I just decided to go ahead and do that. It looks like I may be focusing on the wrong Koonce cluster.

I start with knowing that my James Koonce was born around 1840. In 1870 he also has a woman living with him, Hannah, that is 70 years old that I think may be his mother or grandmother so she would have been born around 1800. When I look at the 1860 slave census for a Koonce slaveholder with a male slave around 20 years old and a female slave around 60 years old, only one comes up with slaves that correspond to both — Calvin Koonce, born around 1805. When I look in the 1850 slave census for a Koonce slaveholder with a male slave around 10 years old and a female slave around 50 years old, only one comes up again – the same Calvin Koonce. From my work on the genealogy of the white Koonce’s I know exactly who he is. He was a 1st cousin to JCB Koonce. His wife was named Amanda and he even had a daughter named Caroline – same name as a daughter of James. While in 1850 Calvin’s home was in a different region of the county, Cypress Creek, in 1860 his home is listed as Beaver Creek (again, this is JUST across the county line from where my father’s family is from). Hmm….. this is getting quite interesting. Why haven’t I looked at this before! I really must get moving on ordering the Koonce estate files for Calvin and JCB. I’ve known about them for at least a year now, just haven’t gotten around to making the request.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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 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.