Faces of America: Episode 1

Last night I eagerly watched the first episode in the new PBS Series, Faces of America, facilitated by Henry Louis Gates.   There’s been a lot of buzz in the genealogy community in anticipation of the show.  It comes at the heels of Gates’ popular African-American Lives & African-American Lives 2 series. After the show, I then participated in a fun post-show chat hosted over at Geneabloggers to talk about our perceptions and thoughts.

Thomas has put together a RSS feed to see the geneablogsphere reactions to the show that are all interesting to read.   Here are my thoughts:

  • Many have commented on the desire to have seen more of the research process explained in the show.  I understand the show producers may have wanted to focus more on the emotional connections for the show, but in the books that have been written to compliment the African American Lives series and the Finding Oprah’s Roots show, there is more detail and emphasis on the research process.  I have both books, In Search of Our Roots & Finding Oprah’s Roots and even learned a few tips and strategies while reading them.   The benefit of the show is that in can increase the awareness among the general population and I am hopeful that those that are more serious will take the time to read the books by either looking for them at their local public library or by purchasing outright.  I would like to see a companion book published for Faces of America as well.
  • I’m a big proponent of the social web.  I’ve posted before on this topic, but I’ll say it again – I do think there is a missed opportunity from the show producers to leverage the interest and use it for greater genealogical good. With African-American Lives 2, they did establish an online forum for users to share their personal stories and used tagging to help structure the stories that were being shared. But, can you imagine the database that could be built if they also asked people to fill in 3 or 4 generation ancestor charts?  They could have an online “facilitator” to help answer people’s questions and guide them to well-established resources, or host their own chat sessions for interested parties.  With 4 episodes to air, this could have been a several weeks long endeavor and really capitalize on the generated interest (the website pretty much crashed last night; there was interest!). Many of the stories presented on the older show sites have details, but much of it is unstructured. As a knowledge management and information professional I highly encourage structure.
  • After watching the show last night, I began to think about the upcoming Who Do You Think You Are series.  I’ve never seen the UK show, so off to YouTube I went in search of episodes.  I watched two last night – that of actor David Suchet and also that of Zoe Wannamaker.  They were excellent!  It was cool to see David Suchet b/c he’s known for playing the Agatha Christie character Hercule Poirot. I’ve not seen the British shows with him, but I have read many a Hercule Poirot mystery. I think I have found a new television series to watch and I posted part 1 of his episode as my Featured Video in the sidebar on the right. I am eager to see the NBC show even more now after watching these episodes.
  • Did you promote the show among your friends and family? I certainly did! I have some coworkers who I dabble in their family trees every now and then and so I told them all and sent them each a little extra piece of family history  — one of them is a descendant of long lineage associated with eastern tennessee whom I recently found a book in the Internet Archive with information about the emigrating ancestor that was written in the 1920s; another has ties to Hawaii and I shared with her a new website/blog focusing on Hawaiian genealogy that could be a useful resource moving forward; and the third I was able to send pictures of her ancestors headstones that were just added to FindAGrave within the past two months. Just a little bit to keep the motivation going :-)

So, I’m excited at the prospects and do still look forward to the additional episodes.  It had its strenghts and weaknesses, but overall I am glad for this opportunity to promote the need for us all to more closely study and understand our family histories.   If you missed it, you can watch in online.

Research in Talladega

Earlier last week I posted about Day 1 of our family vacation at the beginning of the month and what we did on Day 1.  Day 2 we spent on the road all day as we drove from Indiana to Alabama. Day 3 was much more interesting in terms of genealogy.

We went to Talladega, Alabama – the home of my father-in-law and his family.  Whenever we go to Talladega, I pretty much always try to do something family history related, but this time since we were there during the week, I made it my goal to visit the public library and peruse their collection.  Since the public library does not have a strong online presence, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

Kalonji dropped me off at the library around 10 am and I was there until about 4pm.  It turned out that the library had a genealogy room, so that was great news!  I took a few pictures of the genealogy room; while small, I still spent most of my day in there.

I took a few minutes to look around and see what they had.  I’ll try to be brief, but here is a general outline of what I looked through.

1.  A set of yearbooks they had from Talladega High School that dated anywhere from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.  None of Kalonji’s family was to be found however since blacks during that time attended different schools.  But, it was interesting to just browse.

2. microfilm records of the local newspapers.  This was actually frustrating b/c they only have on microfilm reader and it was not focusing correctly.  But, I did find some of Kalonji’s family’s obituaries. I also found a newspaper article that mentions the white Champ McClellan (backstory: Kalonji’s great-grandfather was named Champ McClellan and the suspicion is that his father was white. While researching the white McClellan family, the family of General William Blount McClellan,  that owned Kalonji’s ancestors, I found out that there was also a white Champ McClellan.  The white Champ McClellan was the grandson of the general.)  This story did not produce any new leads, but it was one more tidbit that I can use to help construct the family. 

3. General McClellan had a daughter named Elizabeth Idora who became a well-known writer of stories that focused on the lives of poor whites and plantation blacks of the rural south. I knew that she had a home that still stood in Talladega and I wanted to see it.  I found a reference to it in a book about southern homes that had a nice description of it’s architecture,  Antebellum Mansions of Alabama by Ralph Hammond.  No address though, and that was one piece of information I needed in order to go find it :-)

4. City Directories – the library has city directories that began as far back as 1948.  I went through several of them looking for Kalonji’s grandparents and great-grandparents and found them! I was unsuccessful in finding his great-great grandmother, Fannie McClellan Skelton, but that could just be because of the nature of who were listed in directories.  By the late 40s she was living with Kalonji’s great-grandfather, but not working outside the home, so perhaps that is why she’s not there.   I found Kalonji’s great-grandfather Champ and his wife Leola misrpresented one year as “Jack & Viola” :-)

5.  Since I also try to think of quick things that I can do to help other researchers, I also took a look at many of the reference books that cover Talladega records.  When possible, I like to photocopy book indices for posting online so that others can tell if anyone they may be interested in is covered in a book source.  So, I photocopied the index of a book that compiled marriage information from the county marriage books from 1833-1846 and shared that with the Talladega County mailing list.  There was also a list of Confederate veterans that lived in Talladega County in 1907 and for each there was descriptive personal information.  I plan on sharing that too.  Now, I’ve tried to share that with the ALGenWeb Talladega County Site Coordinator, but have not received a response from her nor the State Coordinator of ALGenWeb. I’ll keep trying though!

And, other than that, I spent a lot of time just browsing the old newspapers. These tend to be my weakness :-)  Overall, I had a very nice day.  The library staff were nice and helpful, and I also met the library director.  

More to come with respect to the family of General William Blount McClellan on the next post!

Family Vacation – 1st Day

Last week, I was very busy with my family as we took our family vacation.  I feel fortunate though in that I was able to work in a number of genealogy-related activities, so the next several posts will be dedicated to sharing my experiences during the vacation.  I will also be posting more general items on my family website and will focus on the genealogy activities here.  Our vacation began August 1, when we drove up to Evansville.  I have four bonus sons (that’s my new term for them, seems to be how the celebrities refer to their stepfamilies :-)) and two of them live there.  In all, the kids are ages 14, 12, 11, 8 and then Kaleya is 4.   See my family site for an overall synopsis of the day.

While we were there however, I was able to go to the Evansville Public Library for a few hours and get some genealogy work in.  I went for the expressed purpose of retreiving obituaries.  I am trying to verify if one of the interviewees in the Slave Narratives Project is an ancestor of Kalonji’s aunt.  I’ve blogged about the specifics for the blog of the Tri-State Indiana Genealogical Society and needed to do some follow-up based on some information I was able to find online.

Those in the Evansville area have on hand a wonderful resource, the Browning Genealogy Database, and I used the index to locate details of obits I wanted to look at.  However, I learned this day, of a major limitation of the Browning database — Evansville had two major papers over the last several decades and when the obits were abstracted for the database, there is no indication of which paper the obit was published in.  This meant I needed to often search both papers for the obit of interest.  Also, the database gives death date, not obit date, so I still had to search across several days to find the obits of interests.   That said, I’m better off for having this handy index than not!

The EVPL has an interesting computer use model that I’ve not yet encountered, but thought it was a good idea.  If you are not an account holder, you pay $1 for two hours (continous or not) of computer use.  With this, I was able to access the internet as I needed.  Also, the microforms area has a microfilm reader connected to a computer for making digital copies of articles of interest.  Sweet!

I was not able to find the most important obit I needed, that of George Washington Fortman Jr.  According to the Browning Database, he died June 6, 1934 and there as an obit in one of the papers that listed his family members.  All I was able to locate was a death notice for him that appeared in the Evansville Press on June 9, 1934 where he is included in a list of deaths recorded in the city, but this notice has no family details.  I looked in both papers across a 10 day period and never found the obit I was looking for.

But, this does at least confirm that he died somewhere around that time frame.  I am searching for information about George’s father.  In the 1930 census, his father’s name is listed as George Ford, but in the Browning Database entry, it is listed as George Fortman Sr.  Since this George was a Jr., the Fortman name makes sense.  In the slave narrative interview, George Ford (the interviewee) apparently goes by both surnames.  This, in addition to some other details being similar between the George that I *know* to be the Sr. and the slave narrative interviewee have me considering that they may be the same person.  I am seeking verification though, so my next steps will be to

1) order the death certificate of George Washington Forman Jr.  Perhaps it will be more clear on his father’s name

2) to also see if I can contact a living daughter of George Jr.s to see if she can shed any light on this.

The interview details are absolutely fascinating so I do hope I can let Kalonji’s aunt know if this is part of her ancestry or not.  You can read the interview here.

While at the public library, I did copy some other articles of interest that is no relation to my quest, so I could use it as fodder for the Tri-State Genealogical Society Blog.  I’m not yet a member, but I regularly submit content for the blog.  The newspaper articles I have as a result of this trip should give me great posts for the next several weeks.

All this in just day one of my trip.   More to come later!

Are We Related?

Last night I received an email from a woman descended from an Annie McNair Dancy McCriddic.  She has found from Annie’s death certificate that her father was named William McNair.  William was born in North Carolina, and Annie was born specifically in Tarboro, Edgecombe County.   Today I called her and we had a great conversation about her quest for learning more about this McNair family.  She found my website and emailed me b/c of my McNair connections.

I’ve just spent some time going over the family structure and still haven’t found a conclusive relationship to my McNair line, but that does not mean there is not one.  Annie moved from North Carolina and was living in Texas by 1900, where she is living with the family of Powell Battle.   Powell was also from Edgecombe County and I believe associated with the same Battle plantation my own ancestors belonged to.

This will be fun to work with the researcher to try to figure this out.

A Koonce & Koonce Expedition

Today I took my first “real” genealogy field trip! I met fellow Koonce researcher John & his wife Nancy today and we ventured down to Lincoln County, TN to do some cemetery searching and hopping.  I am absolutely exhausted this evening, but it was a great day.

John has been doing Koonce research for many years now and I contacted him a few months ago after learning about the Koonce to Koonce newsletter – he and some other Koonce researchers published it for about 4 years in the 90s.  He happened to be in town this weekend and it worked out that I could go with them down to Fayetteville, TN where John had helped secure a new headstone for Revolutionary War Soldier, Phillip Koonce.   We spent in all about 6 hours in town and thought it was raining off and on, we still were able to do quite a bit.  John was able to share with me information that he’d learned from previous discussions and time spent with a Fayetteville native, Robert Allen Gray.  The Koonce families of this county are not related to me.  They do descend from the same ancestors as the Koonce families I have as candidate slaveholders of my families, but since I’ve developed an interest in Koonces all over, it almost makes no difference to me :-)

Stewarts Cemetery —  When we arrived, the first cemetery we went to was Stewart’s Cemetery.  This is a pretty large cemetery and we saw several Koonce’s buried there.  There was one corner of the cemetery that Robert Allen had told John had slaves and we saw a few headstones. Unfortunately, I did not remember to put my camera card in the camera so the pictures I took are on my camera’s internal memory and I don’ t know where my transfer cord is.  I took a picture of a couple of Koonce family members and saw the headstones of a few others.

Kelso-Koonce-McCartney-McGee. Cemetery - We then went over to the Kelso-Koonce-McCartney-McGee Cemetery where Phillip Koonce is buried. John described how about 7 years ago, Robert Allen took him here and showed him a piece of a wall.  They knew there must be a cemetery there, but it was completey overgrown.  John and Robert started searching through the brush and found headstones and from there, the work was begun to clear it. There is now an open space where you can see about 50 markers and the area is kept up by a local resident.  John ordered a govt headstone for Phillip and a nearby church had a refuneralization of sorts when it was placed.   Though they don’t know for sure Phillip is there, his wife and daughter’s headstones are there and there was an empty spot in between – likely spot for him to be.

From Fayetteville Trip
From Fayetteville Trip

Koonce Lane — then, we went down the road to Koonce Lane in search of the Grills-Koonce cemetery.

From Fayetteville Trip

This was a gravel road for the most part and along the way we passed this big pink house.  This used to the the home of Robert Manley Koonce, a descendant of Phillip and the home and land remained in the Koonce family until the 1950s.

From Fayetteville Trip

We kept driving a ways, but never found the cemetery; though from a map John had, we knew it was pretty far off the road.  The rain kept us from really investigating further.

Lunch @ Marvin’s Family Restaurant – Then, we went back to town to have lunch with another Koonce descendant, a Mr. Frank Kelso and his wife Landess. Turns out that Mr. Kelso had quite a distinguished Naval career before retiring ; he is the former Chief of Naval Operations, the highest-ranking office in the Navy, and a 4-star Naval Admiral.  He and his wife bought us all lunch and we spent some time talking about the Koonce family history.  Frank’s grandmother was the daughter of Robert Manley Koonce.  Frank then told us that the Lincoln County Genealogical Society, which we’d passed on the way into town, was open on Sunday afternoons, so we planned to stop there before we left.

Rose Hill Cemetery – after lunch, Frank and Landess took us over to Rose Hill Cemetery and showed us where his great-grandfather was buried.   The rain began to pick-up again, so we didn’t take too many photos, but I got a few of the headstones.  It was at this point that we said our goodbyes to Frank and Landess – they were so nice!

From Fayetteville Trip

Lincoln County Genealogical Society — I couldn’t believe our luck that the Society held regular hours on Sunday afternoon. We stopped in and the staff helped us locate a burial list for the Grilles-Koonce cemetery we never found; as well as a list of people buried at Stewart’s Cemetery and the cemetery where Phillip Koonce is at.  They also had a research binder that used to belong to another Koonce researcher, Alice Koonce of Refugio, TX and in the front of the binder was John’s old business card w/ his own handwriting on it. That was a coincidence.  They also had a family file folder with obituaries and other notes on various Koonce family members.  We made a few photocopies and then headed back out.  The society has an online prescence, so I’ll be sure to be making future contact with them again.

After lunch we went back to Phillip Koonce’s grave and that is when I actually took some of the pictures of that plot. Then, we headed back to Nashville. It takes about an 90 minutes to make the drive so it was not a bad trip.  I had a great time getting to speak with John & Nancy and talk shop about the Koonce families. Being on the actual land where these people lived and being at their gravesites makes them so much more real to me now.   I hope to have a chance to make a trip back; I’d love to learn more in the future.

From Fayetteville Trip

Thanks John, Nancy, Frank & Landess – I had a great day! However, I am now thoroughly exhausted, I’m not sure I’m completely over my cold :-)

Heritage of Edgecombe County

A few months ago, I read an announcement that a new Heritage book was coming out for one of the counties that I have roots in – Edgecombe County, North Carolina.  My McNair family line goes back (as far as I can trace it), to Rufus Tannahill McNair and his wife Mariah Wimberly McNair of Edgecombe County, NC.  So, when I learned of the book I was very excited and I plan to submit a story. I don’t have any pictures to go with the submission, but I’m excited nevertheless. I discovered these Heritage Books very early on in my genealogy quest and I’m excited to have a chance to actually contribute to one – especially with information on an African-American family, which I’ve noticed tend to be underrepresented in these books.

My deadline is October 15, 2008, so I have to get busy!

Ancestry Profiles

Last week Ancestry made changes to their member profiles pages – see announcement on their blog.  I’ve taken a few minutes to update my profile and after doing so, I think this is a good move. The comments on that blog post are filled with a lot of negative comments, but I’m pleased by what I see. Do I think it’s ideal? No. But I like!

The profile now has

  • the ability to add you surnames of interest and the counties they are linked to. Though, it seems you can only have one county per surname and I’d appreciate being able to attach multiple counties to one surname
  • links to all of your posts on the Ancestry message boards
  • can add you picture! Though, the picture box is way to big
  • shows the images and docs you’ve recently added
  • shows all of your public family trees and how many people, photos, and sources are attached to them
  • links to your favorite message boards
  • profile shows date of last login – i like that – lets me know if someone is active or not
  • you can also state how you can help others (looking up items at local repositories, take pictures at cemeteries, offer research assistance, etc.)

Here’s a screenshot of my profile page.

Ancestry states that by beefing up the profiles they will be better able to offer connection suggestions – to do so, you have to go to their Main Community Page once you are logged in.  I did so and based on the names and locations I put in, it showed me how many Ancestry members lived in that area, how many Ancestry members were also researching my surnames, and even of those, how many were researching that surname in the area that I am also researching. Very cool.

I did notice a discrepancy though in the connections.  The location field is not restricted to the county, state, country format I’m used to seeing. You can enter either a city or you can enter either a county.  Therefore, this can create issues when matching connections. A few of the surnames I entered are for Washington County, NC, but the connections page shows me people living in Washington City, North Carolina which is in a different county.  Methinks they should standardize this field better.

I wonder if Ancestry will continue to add to the profiles – like having “friends” and being able to send out messages to all either in your city, or all your friends, etc; in short – become more like Facebook.  You can find my profile here.

I have also explored FamilyLink in the past and while I was initially excited, everytime I go there I get frustrated because I don’t quite fill it lives up to my expectations. Hmm.. I’ll keep exploring though.  For now, you can find my Ancestry profile here.  I also have my Footnote profile here about which I’ve blogged about before.

Genealogy Social Networking – i love it!

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!

New Books!

I’ve got some new books over the past few days to add to my genealogy/history library. As my interest in genealogy has given me a new zeal for history information in general, I love to look for historical books. We are visiting my parents in Greensboro, NC and since I did live here for years growing up as a child, I’m going to also start reading to familiarize myself with some of the history of Greensboro. My new books include: