CoAAG Carnival: Research Connections

The topic of the first Carnival of African-American Genelaogy prompts us all to consider our individual roles in slave research. Luckie, our gracious carnival host, provides four topic areas to choose from for this initial go-round.   I have chosen to blog about the following:

As a descendant of slaves, have you been able to work with or even meet other researchers who are descendants of slave owners?

To this question I would definitely have to yell a big resounding YES!  My Koonce ancestry is the line that in many ways to which I feel most connected and I’ve researched my family back to former slaves of Jones & Craven counties North Carolina.  Though I’ve not yet found my exact slaveowner, I have narrowed it down to a few potential candidates, both white Koonce men of Jones County.   I am so connected to my Koonce name that I decided this past year to start a surname-focused blog about Koonce families.  Well, since starting the project I have been able to connect with many different Koonce researchers & families, both black & white, and one of the highlights of this whole experience was the research trip I took to a nearby city with John Paul Koonce

Taneya Koonce & John Paul Koonce

John invited me to go with him and his wife to Fayetteville, TN in April 2009 (read more on my blog post about it) and we had a great time! John is a descendant in the white Koonce lineage of which my potential slaveowners likely belonged to and for years was active in all things Koonce-genealogy related – even publishing a newsletter for a brief period of time.  He’s still involved in Koonce genealogy matters and I look to him as a wonderful resource for information.   We have worked together to locate information on various Koonce families and though there’s not been a specific connection yet to my own Koonce family, I have enjoyed the interactions nevertheless.

Additionally, I’ve had so many other encounters with white Koonce descendants and received nothing but the kindest words of encouragement and appreciation for all the efforts being made to help us understand the joint family history more thoroughly.  Slavery was not a pleasant time for our history, but hopefully, the more we all continue to make connections and bridge gaps in our collective knowledge of our ancestors.

Visiting the Plantation

I’ve had some difficulty posting to my blog, but it looks like I’ll have success tonight.

In my last post, I talked about my research at the Talladega Public Library.  After leaving the library on the Monday afternoon of our family vacation,  we went back to our hotel, had pizza and relaxed for awhile.  After dinner, we had what really was one of the best genealogy highlights of the trip.

My husband had a great-grandfather named Champ McClellan. Champ was born June 3, 1887 in Talladega.  Though he never talked about it, it is the family’s belief that his father was white. Champ’s mother was named Fannie and his grandmother was named Rebecca.  From past research, I’ve tied Champ and his family to the lands of General William Blount McClellan and I believe he Genral to be Kalonji’s slaveholding family, and one of the McClellan men to be Champ’s father.  From past research and correspondence with a historian researching the General’s daughter, Idora,  I knew that the home of the general was still standing in Talladega.  So, after an email exchange with the historian she informed me on which road the house stood.  We decided to go look for it.

The General’s home was called Idlewilde and since I had a picture, we were able to locate it pretty easily after a few minutes drive on the Eastaboga Road. There was even an iron sign to mark the spot.

It certainly is a beautiful home on the outside. We drove along the driveway to take some more pictures and as we got around to the back, we saw a car there. Hmm… to knock on the door or not? Well, knock on the door we did! Especially since it was open. It took a few minutes, but eventually a lady came to the door.

Now, how do you explain to a complete stranger that you’re visiting their house b/c this is the property of your enslavers. Well, I explained just that and upon hearing Kalonji’s last name of McClellan, she immediately perked up. And, she even invited us inside to see the house!

OMG. I was so excited! It turns out that the home is owned by the McGehee family and her father bought the home around 40 years ago from one of the McClellans, Marcus McClellan. I’m not entirely sure, but I think the Marcus she referred to was the General’s grandson, but there was more than one Marcus in the family. Her father had been friends with the McClellan family and it was through that association which he was able to buy the home. She toured us around showing us the various parts; the wing she had built on, the breezeway between the two original buildings which her father had enclosed, the marble table in the breezeway that was designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti – the designer of the Vulcan statue in Birmingham; the original rooms of the house – both upstairs and downstairs.  She really spent quite a bit of time with us and we were so grateful!  The home is a private home, not on any register of historic places, but she took the time to host us that evening telling us, “if you’d gotten her 5 minutes earlier, you’da caught me in the pool!”

After our visit, we thanked her profusely and then I had everyone take a picture on the front steps.

It truly was a memorable evening.  When I think of Kaleya being able to grow up with this, it amazes me. Her 4th great-grandmother, Rebecca McClellan & 3rd great-grandmother Fannie McClellan were on these grounds before the Civil War. It really makes you pause for reflection.



When we got back to the family and shared this experience, they were all amazed. Kalonji’s grandmother, Frances, never knew about the home though having lived all of her 84 years in Talladega, living less than 5 miles away. Truly astonishing. This is definitely a visit that I have to do scrapbook pages for and share them with the family.

Visit to Multnomah County Central Library

This week I had a short trip to Portland, Oregon for a conference associated with my current degree program.  I’ve posted on my main family blog about the trip in general, but I am posting here about a mission I went on at the public library.

On my way back from my meeting, I stopped at the Multnomah County Central Library.

The library was only a few blocks from my hotel and I am glad that I had a chance to visit.  The library system here is the largest to the west of the Mississippi and dates back to the 1850s.  This building was erected in 1913 and has undergone a recent renovation.    Upon entering the building, I was almost immediately struck by the gorgeous grand staircase! It was designed by artist Larry Kirkland and is called “Garden Stairs.”  The black and white etchings have a mix of designs and words.  I did not take any pictures, but I did buy this postcard of them.

When I arrived, I was not sure what I was going to do there, but quickly developed an action plan; I would look at old issues of an African-American newspaper (if they had any).   I have a great interest in newspapers, particularly African-American ones,  so was delighted to find out that there was indeed some published in Portland.   This guide on the History of African-Americans in Portland provides a handy list on page 8.   The paper I chose to look at was the Advocate and I focused on the 1924-1929 time frame.

Here is the front page of the October 11, 1924 edition.

Similar to my own Nashville Public Library, this library offers microfilm machines connected to computers so that microfilm images can be scanned. Unlike the NPL however, their library sells 256 MB USB drives for $5 since the computers are not hooked up with internet access. Not bad though! I was able to scan about 10 issues and save to the USB drive before I had to download them to my own computer.

I had fun perusing the issues. I was not looking for anything in particular, but I will transcribe articles of local interest from the issues I did scan and make them available online, most likely by posting them to the appropriate surname listserves at Ancestry or by contacing people who have Ancestry Trees that mention the individuals named in the paper.

I found it intersting to see ads that I’ve seen in other African-American newspapers, such as this one from the East India Growing Company for their product to promote hair growth.

I have some work to do to transcribe the issues I scanned, but it is my hope that this information helps someone out there one day!  Even if they don’t, I’ve gained glimpse into life in Portland in the 20s that has been quite insightful.

Also, since I contribute regularly to the blog of the Tri-State Genealogical Society of Evansville, Indiana, the TSGS Cruiser, I also wanted to see if I could find any Evansville-related news items in the Oregon papers.  Fortunately, the University of Oregon offers an extensive Oregon Newspapers Index of close to 1 million records spanning 1852-present.  A quick search revealed a few Evansville-related items and I chose to transcribe one for submission to the TSGS Blog.  That should be going up next week sometime.

So, those few hours were my  genealogy fix.  I just could not pass up the chance to work in some genealogy while in town :-)

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 :-)