Bringing Black Nashville to Life

Marriages from a 1906 issue of the Nashville Globe

One of my favorite local sources for genealogy information is the former black-owned and operated newspaper, The Nashville Globe.  It was founded in 1906 and ran until 1960.  Over the past several years I’ve extracted data from the paper and posted it on my blog, Black Nashville.

Soon after starting that blog, I learned that the Nashville Public Library had an index of sorts available on one if their in-house computers.  Local professor and lawyer Lewis Lasker, created this massive project where he extracted names and full articles from the paper.  It truly is an amazing feat.

Me being me though, I’m not content with it living on a local computer in the public library and I emailed Mr. Lasker asking if I could have his permission to turn it into an online database.  I spoke to him today and he agreed; I’m now ecstatic!  We are planning to meet soon to work out the details, but I’m hoping that we’ll have an initial version of the site up an running sometime this summer.

More to come later….

Vacation Day 3 – Can’t Get Enough Yearbooks

After learning yesterday that the Nashville Metropolitan Archives had a strong yearbook collection, I decided to spend my afternoon there today.

I wrote to the email reference of the Archives last night and received a response that they had a print listing of the yearbooks they have available, so I requested this list upon my arrival.  They have a few hundred yearbooks from area schools & colleges.

I first wanted to look at any yearbooks they had for African-American schools.  Since their yearbook collection is established mostly via donations, they had only a few available.  I scanned the senior class listings from them so I can transcribe them for the Davidson County TNGenWeb site.  The ones I captured were  Pearl High School from 1955, 1965, 1975 and a school publication from 1942.

Then it was on to my obsession, Vanderbilt! They have many years of Vanderbilt yearbooks, so I captured the graduating classes of many years up to 1919; specifically – 1908, 1911, 1912, 1916, 1917, 1918 & 1919

All in all, a good few hours spent this afternoon!

Caption: As he feels on graduation. From the 1908 Vanderbilt University yearbook.

Vacation Day 2 – Nashville Public Library

The genealogy vacation extravaganza continues! Today I spent my time at the Nashville Public Library in their Nashville Room.  I came to realized I’d seriously underappreciated the resources in the Nashville Room for I learned today much more about their holdings.  As with yesterday, everything I gathered today will eventually go to the TNGenWeb & NCGenWeb projects to aid others doing family history research.

The reason I went to NPL was to capture digital images off of a couple of microfilm rolls I ordered years ago from the NC State Library & Archives.   In the past I’d paid to have two rolls scanned by a professional microfilm company, but I keep trying out different ways to do it myself.  Our public library has two microfilm machines hooked up to computers and this makes scanning quite easy to do.

I captured key information from:

  • Roanoke Beacon of Plymouth, NC from April – June of 1890.  This is a weekly paper.
  • Kinston Free Press of Kinston, NC from a couple of weeks in January 1910 and a couple of weeks in Aug/Sep 1910.  This is a daily paper.

One of my recreational blogs is Black Nashville History & Genealogy.  Most of the info for the site comes from the Nashville Globe, an African-American newspaper that ran in the early-mid 1900s.   Today, I captured:

  • Nashville Globe-Independent — death notices & obituaries from Jan – Jun 1960.

Then, I discovered that the public library has quite a number of yearbooks.  I’ve been in yearbook deluge lately so I had to continue and look at those.  I even had to take a picture.

yearbooks at the Nashville Public Library

Today I captured the senior class listings for:

  • Vanderbilt University – 1896, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905,
  • Ward Seminary for Young Women -  a girl’s high school.  I got the names of the 1902 seniors.
  • University of Tennessee – 1897, 1914, 1915 – these are all online already having been digitized by the University of Tennessee, but I took a few pictures anyway
  • Hume Fogg High School – 1919, 1921

I also learned that the Nashville Metro Archives has a large yearbook collection so I will need to plan a visit there one day to look at them.  Another very productive day! Unfortunately, tomorrow I need to run errands so no genealogy for me, but these past couple of days have been stellar.  I now need to start my genealogy project Works-In-Progress List so I can keep track of my status with each of these.

Ward Seminary For Young Women - 1902

Researching While On Vacation

Today was the start of my 2 week vacation and you know how I spent it? Like any true genealogist – in the library :-).  I visited the Tennessee State Library & Archives to gather information to share on the TNGenWeb & NCGenWeb sites in which I participate/ccordinate.  I also pulled a couple of obituaries for researchers who have contacted me during the past month.

I captured a lot of information today and this was the first time I really put my new handheld, portable scanner to use (see my blog post about it here) and it was great! I captured hundreds of images today between it and my camera.  I used it on books and even the microfilm reader to capture newspaper images.  I still need to learn to tweak the microfilm machine for best capture, but for my purposes, what I was able to obtain today will go a long way.

Here is an example of a capture I was able to get by using it on the microfilm machine screen.  It’s not perfect, but it is good enough for me to the abstract decedent, date of death, & cemetery info that I am planning to use.

Here is my list of what I gathered today:

  • Index pages to Blount  County Court Minutes 1795-1804, 1804-1807, and 1808-1811.   I plan to turn these pages into an online listing to assist county researchers for my Blount County TNGenWeb site.  These were compiled in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration.
  • Deaths in the Maryville Enterprise newspaper (Blount County, TN) from January – June 1961.  A Blount County researcher has done an amazing job indexing obituaries from 1867-1960 so I’d like to begin to expand upon what he’s done.   Using the handheld scanner makes this a more feasible project.   Photocopies using the microfilm readers are .25 each.  My method is free.
  • Index to Martin County Madison County Circuit Court Minutes 1821-1828 – for the Madison County TNGenWeb project.
  • Davidson County Wills & Inventories 1795-1804 pt. 1 – I scanned in half of this volume so that I can submit them to the Davidson County TNGenWeb project.  These too were compiled in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.
  • Vanderbilt University Yearbooks  for 1909, 1910, 1913, 1914, & 1915.  I am currently indexing hundreds of North Carolina yearbooks so am interested in yearbooks these days.  I want to start indexing those from the Nashville area, so what better university to start with than my new alma mater (and place of employment for the past 10 years!).   I focused on capturing the senior class members only for now.   The next school I’d like to do is Fisk so that I can get some much needed African-American representation as well.   This too will be contributed to the Davidson County TNGenWeb project.

I’ve had a busy day don’t ya think?  :-)  This is going to be great material to keep me busy for awhile, but I am trying to get back tomorrow to gather more.

Vanderbilt 1910 Girls Basketball Team - Lamar Ryals (mascot), Eleanor Richardson, Mattie Stocks, Ada Raines (Captain), Rebecca Young, & Stella Katherine Vaughn

Genealogy with the Kids

Earlier this week as I was reading Randy’s “Best of the Genealogy Blogs,” I checked out Amy of WeTree’s post on getting kids into the genealogy fix.  In her post, Amy shares some wonderful suggestions for how to get kids involved with your genealogy efforts and shares some interesting experiences.  Bribes of course are one tactic :-)

Her post was quite timely for me as this past weekend I took the kids out to a nearby cemetery. I wanted to photograph some tombstones to add to FindAGrave and they cooperated suprisingly well.  This is about the 3rd time I’ve taken them to a cemetery with me and I had no complaints this time.  Of course, I did use a bribe – telling them that if they allowed me an hour to do this, I’d treat them to a special surprise in the afternoon.  The surprise? Frozen yogurt. Yummy!

So, we went to Harpeth Hills Cemetery which is about a 10 minute drive from me. I’d not been there before, and though I expected it to be a large cemetery given the present number of listings on FindAGrave, it was a lot larger than I thought.  I was not looking for any one’s grave in particular, though next time I go, I’ll try to fulfill some photo requests.

When we arrived at the cemetery, I found a place to park and just had to stare at the view in front of me for a few minutes. It was absolutely gorgeous!

And, there was another large tree-covered hill to the right of this view.

I was telling the kids that back in the day, people used to visit cemeteries much in the same manner as we visit parks today. I learned that in my Death & Dying course in college. :-) While we were there, they ran all over that field above, and then came and walked with me as I took pictures.  Lately, Kaleya has been talking about an imaginary friend of hers named Cherry, so of course when we passed the headstone of John R. Cherry Jr., Jihad pointed this out to her. She loved it. I think she can now recognize the word Cherry.

At this cemetery, I took about 150 photos so over the next couple of weeks I’ll be adding them online.  I truly think the kids enjoyed it.  As we were leaving, we saw a family that had brought balloons to a gravesite to celebrate the birthday of the deceased. I think it was a child, for they were singing Happy Birthday and taking pictures.  It was nice to see this.  It was touching.

So, after that cemetery, I made one more stop to a local church cemetery, the Pasquo Church of Christ.  I almost felt bad about stopping, but as soon as we parked, Jihad noticed that one of the grave markers was for a McPherson family and he was game – we live on a street named McPherson so he recognized the name.  He wants me to research who this family was. I think I am going to save that for a different time as maybe I can suggest he looks them up and get him to go on a visit with me to the state archives.

So, after this, I fulfilled my promise and took them to get some frozen yogurt.  They were quite content.

And, I think Jihad now has a bit of a genealogy bug.  He asked me the next day if we could go back and now he wants to fill out his own family tree.   I of course can accommodate this and prepared a short list of questions for him to ask his mom about her family.   Within 10 minutes of finding out his grandfather’s name, I was able to locate a picture of him and show it to Jihad.

This was due to the fact that in Evansville, where both Kalonji and Jihad’s mom’s families are from, there is an excellent database of newspaper obituary listings that spans more than 50 years, the Browning Genealogy Database and sure enough, several of Jihad’s mom’s family members and ancestors are included!

I now have much work to do to work w/ Jihad to prepare his newfound family tree, but I think it will be a great experience for him!  On our next trip to Evansville, I’ll be taking him to help find the tombstones of his own relatives, I think he will get a lot from that.

These type of activities certainly make it all worthwhile.  :-)  Thanks Amy for the excellent post which inspired me to write this one.

Ancestry Boards RSS Feeds

For the past several months, I’d noticed that all the boards on Ancestry.com offered RSS feeds, but I have just recently started using them. It is way cool!

So far, I have subscribed to about 10 feeds for various counties and surnames and I am finding it to be a very convenient way to keep track of new posts. I much prefer to get them through my blog reader rather than having to visit each board. Honestly, RSS feeds are like the blessing of my internet life!

I think I’m the only one using them though :-) – well, at least for the boards I subscribe too. According to Bloglines & Google Reader, there is only 1 subscriber! I really do hope others take advantage of these feeds as it is a cool feature. Now, if only GenForum would do this…

In other news, this weekend I had a chance to do some cemetery walking. I went to one of the black cemeteries here in town to search for a particular grave site. Doing so was quite an experience. As I have been working on my Black Nashville Blog, I have been learning about the history of blacks in Nashville. So, as I was walking through the cemetery it was like a who’s who of Nashville! I’ll post more about it later, but it was quite a fulfilling experience for me at a very personal level.

Then, I also came up with a blogging schedule for myself too. With so many blogs, I want to make sure they get regular attention from me, so I started a schedule. As I begin to implement that schedule, I will share that here as well.

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.

tn_al_map.jpg

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 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.

demoss.jpg

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

demoss_abraham.jpg

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.

This must be the week of the Merrys!

This must really be the week of the Merrys because I had another great find today!  I received a notice in my email today that the Nashville Public Library posted an online index to a listing of more than 19,000 names of people buried in the Old Nashville Cemetery. The listings are drawn from a series of internment books held by the Metro Nashville Archives, 1846-1949. So, I decide to take a look and guess what I find – more Merrys.

It is difficult to be precisely sure of all the exact relationships, but I think it lists another four children of Nelson & his wife Mary, in addition to his mother.  Also, there are some other Merrys that I think may be related as they are buried in Nelson’s plot. I am confused though on precise locations, because, I have been to Nelson’s grave and it is not in the Old Cemetery, but it is listed in this database. I may have to call the Metro Archives or go see the books in person to understand more about locations.  Mt. Ararat, where Nelson is buried, does have an affiliation with the City Cemetery, but I think there is an issue with naming.  But to summarize who is listed in this database…

  • Clancy Cousins – died at age 18, 11 Mar 1850. States that she is free colored female, and sister of Nelson Merry, who is also noted as free. Her cause of death was Fever. It is correct that Nelson was free.
  • Merry, infant boy – died 14 Jan 1851. States that he is the son on “N. Merry” and died of Croope. Now, this could be either Nelson’s son, or a son of his brother, Napoleon.
  • Merry, infant girl – died 6 Oct 1854. States that she is the “daughter of Nelson Merry” who is a free colored man.
  • Merry, infant boy – died 12 Jan 1857. States that he is the son of “Ann Merry” who is a free colored woman. This may or may not be Nelson’s son. His wife Mary’s middle name was Ann, so it could be that her middle name was used in this instance, or the infant’s mother could be a different person all together.
  • Merry, Mrs. Sidney – died 26 Jun 1873. The only note on this one is box paid on Nelson Merry’s lot. This is Nelson’s mother!  From census records, I know that Sidney lived with Nelson in 1870, but she was no longer there in 1880. In the 1870 census, she is listed as being 80 years old, but in the 1850 census she is also listed as being 80. So, given the 1850 census date, I had already estimated her year of birth to be about 1770. This cemetery listing matches that and if she died in 1873, that would make her just around 100 years old! I can’t wait to go search for an obituary.

Now, these dates may be actually burial dates and not dates of death – I need to check that in the source books. But, in addition to these whom I think the relationship is clear, there are others:

  • Two infant children of a Jas. Hoss (or Sloss) that are on the lot paid by “N. Merry”
  • A 100 year old woman named Angeline Thomas that is on the lot paid by “N. Merry.” Her date is 24 Jan 1872.
  • A 29 year old man named William King who is listed with Sidney Merry and is also in “box paid by Nelson G. Merry”
  • An infant boy listed as the son of George Merry, who is listed as free colored man.
  • An infant boy listed as the son of a Francis Merry
  • Merry, Mary – died in 1855. The listing just says “Nelson Merry’s lot.”  She was 10 years old. I’m not sure who she is because in 1850, Nelson & Mary are only listed with one child, John Wesley Merry.

All of this gives me reason to really go back and research other Merrys in I can find them. How intriguing!  Now, the fun is not over. I decided to visit the website of the city cemetery and was happy to see that they are very involved in genealogical causes. They have posted a list of people buried in the cemetery whose descendants have contacted the cemetery, and they have a volunteer looking up obituaries of people buried there and they are providing links to those obits. Very progressive! If only more cemeteries would do this!