Does It Get Any Better Than This?

Does it get any better than discovering there is (well, in my case, was) a genalogical society for your surname?  

koonce2koonce

This is an excerpt from the front page of the Koonce To Koonce newsletter of the Koonce Genealogical Society.  I learned of the newsletter last month I think from a random internet search, and then discovered that the Tennessee State Archives has several issues.  At this point, I have not looked to see how many issues were done total, but I will find out.  Koonce’s (from my slaveowners families in Eastern NC) were some of the early settlers in Tennessee and Nashville, so I’m not surprised that TSLA would have these.  I spent quite a bit of time browsing through the issues and I photocopied two issues for beginners. Believe me, I’m going to photooopy them all eventually.   While most of the information is for the white Koonce lines, I was still fascinated.  

When I got home, I showed the newsletter to Kaleya to see if she would recognize the pattern of  the name Koonce.  I taught her that the words on my name badge for work say “Taneya Koonce”, so she looked at it and thought it also said Taneya Koonce.  Well, close enough for me! I was just happy that she recognzied the word Koonce out of context of my name badge :-)

A Brick Wall Shattered!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Solomon’s death certificate lists his mother as Caroline Koonce and father as George West. The excitement begins..
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 :-)

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.

barfield_koonce_grave.jpg

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!

William J. Koonce Sr. 1920 – 1976

My grandfather, William J.  Koonce Jr, pictured her with my grandmother Cora in the 1970’s, died 31 years ago on January 1, 1976. He died as a result of a car accident on the Major Deegan Expressway in NYC. I’d always known this growing up, and also always known that he had been drinking that night in celebration in New Year’s Eve, but because he always went to work to provide for his family, he then decided to drive himself to work early on the morning of the 1st. Bad decision.

Around 1997, I was talking family history with my grandmother and she gave me a folder of documents that she had. In them, was a hearing transcript “In the Matter of Edmond Alston -and- William Koonce (Dec’d).” Case No. 6-100016 in the State of New York Department of Motor Vehicles. This transcript was of the hearing held against the driver of the other car that my grandfather collided with to determine if there was any cause to revoke his license (which did not happen). What is so important to me about this document however is that Mr. Alston was the only eyewitness to the accident as it was his car that my grandfather hit, and describes it in detail. In the transcript, after he describes the accident, are these words:

  • Q: Did you have any conversation afterward with the other driver?
  • A: Conversation, no, he was unconscious at the time.
  • Q: Was he alone in the vehicle?
  • A: Yes. And they pronounced him, before they took him away, they pronounced him dead or deceased.

When I first read these words, I cried. Here in words in front of me was a description recounting the almost exact moments when my grandfather died. It still brings tears to my eyes now to read it, but I feel fortunate to have it.  My grandfather’s last words to my father was that my father better always treat me right and take care of me as he should. Or, my he (my grandfather) was going to come back from the grave and get him.  :-).   I was only six months old at the time.

I write this post because I have finally gotten around to scanning the transcript as a PDF, adding it to my online files, and filing it away in my print files.  Had my grandmother not had this to give to me, I can’t imagine that I would have ever located it on my own now as I work on the family tree.

A Graphical Representation

I just spent some time researching some of the white Koonce lineages I’m tracking for possible slaveholder relationships. Tonight, I found maps in Wikipedia of Lenoir, Craven and Jones counties of North Carolina and merged the three together. This helps me have a better visual for determining locations. Locations are important to me as I try and narrow down a possible Koonce slaveowner.

My Koonce ancestors are from the Dover area (Township 3) and Township 9 area of Craven County. In the 1860 slave census, there are only a handful of white Koonce slaveowners and the closest ones are JCB Koonce, Amos Koonce, Calvin Koonce and John S. Koonce — they owned plenty of slaves and were from the Beaver Creek area of Jones County. As you can see on the map, the areas are quite close. So, this was the impetus for me following these particular Koonce’s more closely.

This map will also help me in my indexing project of an area newspaper, the Kinston Free Press. I’m going to love this!

JCB Koonce’s Headstone

As I do my research on the white Koonce family, I was recently contacted by a person who shares ancestry with an ancestor of JCB Koonce (of Jones County, North Carolina). Interestingly enough, the person that contacted me is also a descendant of one of the families I’ve gathered a little bit of information on from Washington County. Small world!

But, this person sent me headstone pictures of JCB and his wife Elenor. JCBs family is one of my candidate families for having owned my Koonce ancestors. Still tracking that down, but I appreciate the grave photos. JCB stands for John Counsel Bryan Koonce. These are their gravestones in Jones County,NC.

John Counsel Bryan Headstone
Eleanor Fordham Koonce Headstone

Happy Birthday Ella

Today would have been my aunt Ella’s 50th birthday. She was born May 22, 1957 in Lenoir County, North Carolina and was my father’s youngest sister. I have very fond and clear memories of Ella, she died when I was 9 years old, in 1984. She had one daughter, my cousin Aiesha.

One of the clearest things I remember about Ella was that she taught me how to count to 49 in Spanish (b/c I never could seem to remember the word for fifty)! Just last November, my aunt told me the story behind Ella’s middle name. Apparently, it was supposed to be Evonne, but when their father went to do the birth certificate, he messed it up and she ended up with the name Levon. However, everyone called her Evonne anyway.

More Information from the State Archives

After visiting the Tennessee State Library and Archives again today, I have more information to help me in figuring out the trees for the white families I’m researching. Some of the goodies:

While there, I also looked through the Heritage Books for Martin County, Craven County and Lenoir County. Made copies of a few key pages. However, I have to say that overall, I am quite disappointed with these series of books. They seem to have been mostly done by local genealogy societies in the 80’s and 90’s? My disapppointment with them is the true lack of adequate representation of black familes. Is it b/c the societies decided not to pursue as many black families? Is it because they tried and didn’t get participation from black families? For the Craven County book, the church section did not include black churches! (at least not the two that my families have been going to for the past 70 years. I am truly dismayed. Not sure what to do about it yet….