Roots and Truth in Genealogy

This past week, I’ve had all of my stepsons visiting.  We had a very busy week. Part of our activities this week was to get them watching Roots. I love this series and the book.

But, I also have some great disappointment today that I am pondering over.  Yesterday, I went to the state archives and while there, I photocopied two articles by Gary B. Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills about their work to assess the genealogy behind the Roots story.  The two articles were

  • Mills, Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills. “Roots and the New ‘Faction’: A Legitimate Tool for CLIO?”, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January, 1981
  • Mills, Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots“, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, March, 1984

After reading about their work to trace Haley’s genealogy compared to what is reported in the book, I feel  disappointed in Roots as a book.  I completely understand the great cultural significance of the story of Roots and what is symbolizes – what it *could* look like if we could trace our ancestry back to Africa as in the story of Kunta Kinte.  Roots was an important and needed phenomenon that jump started a lot of people’s interest in understanding where they came from. I don’t believe that could ever be taken away from it.

But, once you start to look at the work of the MIlls’ and the work of others that have also done research in to Haley’s ancestry and work, it becomes fairly obvious rather quickly that there are historical inaccuracies and misinformation in Roots and that there are major limitations in some of Haley’s genealogy processes.

I hypothetically wonder if I were a Haley family member truly interested in applying the highest standards to genealogy research of the family tree, how would I reconcile the historical documentation w/ the book in a way that does not come across as disrespectful of Alex’s work? Even the Alex Haley Foundation’s website has the tree up as presented in Roots, but surely they have to know that this is not entirely supported by the genealogical evidence?  What do you do about misinformation that gets represented to others that may be part of the tree?

A couple of years ago when we were living outside of Memphis we took the kids to the Alex Haley home in Henning, TN where he is buried. At that time, I learned of the controversy around Roots, but did not pursue learning too much more.  However, I remain fascinated, so do plan to continue reading.

Here is a picture of his home and grave that I took when we visited in 2006.

June’s Database of the Month

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’d established a blogging schedule for myself in order to help me ensure that each of my blogs received at least a little bit of love throught the month.  I used this schedule all through the month of June and it has worked well for me.  I have not posted *every* time that I intended to, but regularly enough.

On of the topics that I started was “Feature Friday.”  Feature Friday posts examine a chosen database and I look for blog-specific content. In June, I made the following Feature Friday posts for which I searched in GenealogyBank.

What was most cool about doing this however was that Tom Kemp himself emailed me and commented favorably on my posts.  :-)

This was a great exercise for me.  I also wrote a contribution for the newsletter of the Heritage Genealogical Society. I am a new member of HGS and I thought this would be a valuable way to raise awareness of online resources.  The contribution I wrote was for the Genealogy OnLine column and should be out soon.

For the month of July I plan to do the same exercise. The database this time will be Footnote.

Gravesite of Betty Sanders

In follow-up to my post earlier this week on Kalonji’s great-grandmother Betty, I was indeed able to go to the cemetery today and take a picture of her headstone.  The Oak Hill Cemetery here in Evansville maintains a database of all those buried there, so they make it rather convenient to locate your loved ones. It is a huge cemetery so, it is quite necessary.

Betty is buried in Section 54 of the cemetery and here is her headstone:

Since we had the exact section information, Kalonji and I were able to find her literally in less than a minute.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of her children, her daughter Elnora, was buried next to her.  The year of birth on Elnora’s headstone is 1920, but the records I have so far suggest 1919.  I’ll have to sort that out later.

While I was visiting the cemetery, I took a few pictures at random to see if they were needed for FindAGrave.com and I ended adding Betty, Elnora and about 12 strangers up to FindAGrave.

Negro Week in Edgecombe

The September 20, 1898 issue of the Charlotte Observer featured an article titled: “Negro Week in Edgecombe: Black Republican Convention.”

As was often the case with some of these older articles, this is the overall synopsis– “Not a White Man in the Crowd — This is the set the White population are fussing with and putting in power — Lee Person, a notorious Black politician makes incendiary speeches — Tarboro still has a good police — Northhampton’s negro coroner, who is out for the stuff.”

I came across this article while browsing GenealogyBank tonight and had to read it.  My g-g-g-grandmother was named Mariah WImberly McNair and I suspect the local politician Dred Wimberly was her brother (see previous posts on Dred).  Since this article was about the right time frame as when he was in service, I took a closer look and sure enough he is mentioned. The article notes that although he was seemingly “master of ceremonies” someone else won the NC Senate seat.

[image from GenealogyBank.com]

Then, when I kept reading, I also saw mention of Turner Prince, whom I posted very briefly about last week as there is a community in Edgecombe County named after him, Princeville.  This article notes that Turner served as a state magistrate.

[image from GenealogyBank.com]

I need to read this article more in-depth. This is why I love newspapers!

The Death of John Lennon

No – not the Beatles singer.  :-)

My mother’s grandmother was named Lucinda Lennon Robinson.  From census records I knew that she had a brother named John but until a few days ago I did not know much about him except his approximate age as I’d only located him in two census records – 1880 & 1900.  While I was recently searching the NC death certificates database at Ancestry, I found him.

According to his death certificate – John Lennon died December 12, 1938 in Whiteville, Columbus County, North Carolina.  He was married to a woman whom I think is named Olive and they had at least six kids that I could find in the post-1900 census records.  What is striking to me though is that the death certificate reported his cause of death as a homicide from injuries received during a knife fight. I had to see if I could find a mention of this in the newsaper.

I emailed the librarian at the county library and she was extremely helpful. Within half-a-day she emailed me to let me know she had it and she’d scan it soon.  Today she sent not only one, but two articles!  As elated as I was to receive the email, I was also very saddened to read the report.

John was only 45 years old when he died and from the newspaper record, it states that a man named Frank Wooten stole a shotgun from John at some point in the past.  Because of this, Wooten was indicted and sent to work as part of a chain-gang.  Apparently, upset that he’d been sent away, Wooten took revenge on my great-grandmother’s brother.

The headline of the first article from The News Reporter of Whiteville reads “Negro Victim of Revenge Murder: Western Prong Negro Dies Today Shortly Berfore noon of Knife Wounds Inflicted by Another Negro.“  The hardest part of the article is the description of his body when he was found in a nearby ditch just before he died….

“He was discovered in a ditch in Mount Olive, and attaches at the clinic said that he was slashed from head to foot, stabbed several times, and one eye was completely knocked out.  Walter Haines, a negro, picked the guy up and brought him to the Clinic of Dr. Carnes here this morning.  The physician said that he found it necessary to take more than 200 stitches on Lennon’s head alone.”

The second article pretty much said the same thing as the first one.  This article gives few extra details except that the knife was a pocket knife.  My family was heartbroken that this had happened to him.  But, I will now focus on trying to locate John’s children.

You can read both articles here.

Read this document on Scribd: Articles about John Lennon’s Death

Betty Sanders (1901-1982)

Today is the anniversary of the death of Kalonji’s great-grandmother, Betty Sanders.  She was born July 16, 1901 in the Hebbardsville community of Henderson County, Kentucky and died on this day (June 23) in 1982 in Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana.


Currently, the family is unsure of who Betty’s father may have been, but her SSA has the name of a Parker Sanders.   Her mother’s name was Marge and from Kalonji’s mother, I understand that Marge was a former slave and lost her foot due to frostbite. This interestingly enough, is similar to a family story that one of my great-great-grandmother’s also lost part of her foot due to frostbite. I’m sure this must have been a common happening when access to proper footwear may have been an issue.

I do know that Betty’s maternal grandparents were a Willis Sanners and Betty Collins. I am unsure about the spelling of the “Sanders/Sanner” last name – are they two different names? Or, are they the same name with different spellings? The record trail that I have for the family so far makes it difficult to tell. Will & Betty had at least 5 kids, Marge being one of the younger ones.  Marge herself would have around 8 kids if I have the tree right.

Kalonji’s mother knew her grandmother well and has shared tales of how wild Betty was – she always had two or three boyfriends, was always on the go and always down for a good time. Kalonji’s mother always went places with her and has very fond memories of her grandmother.  In July of last year, Kalonji and I took a trip to the new African-American Museum in Evansville, which is located on a block next to where Betty used to live.   I still haven’t posted Part 2 to that post, but in the post, I included pictures of where Betty’s house used to be located.

As I take a moment to review my research on Betty and her family, I see many potential places for further research.  Betty was a member of Nazarene Baptist Church in Evansville – I wonder if they have any records, old programs, etc. where she may have been included?  Betty is buried in Oak HIll Cemetery and I have not yet been to take a picture of her gravesite. We are going to Evansville this weekend, so I must make an effort to visit her gravesite.

A Humbling Experience

I make this post as a public apology to a certain researcher who has offered great insight into the research I’ve been doing on my Lennon line of Columbus County, NC.  Back in April,  I posted about how I’d cold called some possible Lennon relatives as I was trying to find more conclusive evidence/information that my great-great grandmother, Etta Lennon may be connected to that particular family tree.  In my post, I blogged about the experience of trying to put these clues together, but I did not post that the reason I even decided to make these cold calls was due to some information the researcher sent me.  She contacted me the other evening saying she’d read the post and felt I should have given her credit for her help.

And, she is correct. I should have mentioned her contributions towards the work in putting the details of this line together.  My oversight was due to the fact that the way the information was provided to me was of a rather sensitive nature, and me trying to be politically correct one, felt it best not to mention certain details. But, I could have mentioned her as part of the precipitating chain of events – so to her I do apologize.  It was certainly not intentional.

So, if you are doing research in tandem with others (as many of us are), please remember to give credit where credit is due.  This was particularly a hurtful experience for me because as a librarian, I do firmly belive in providing proper source and credit to where information comes from.  I have even criticized my husband in his blog posts for not linking back to original sources!

I am truly sorry to have made another feel slighted.

WorldCat.org adds “Lists”

Being a librarian, I have been using a resource called WorldCat for about 10 years now, since I was in library school.  In the past few years, the company that provides WorldCat has made it more open and available online for anyone to search and find out which libraries hold a book of particular interest.

Since getting into genealogy, I’ve realized how useful WorldCat can be for other genealogists and I try to promote it as much as possible and I use it myself quite extensively for this reason too.  I was using it last week and noticed they added a new feature, called “Lists.”  I was excited about this feature – it can be of great help for tracking collections.  I currently use DabbleDB  to keep track of some of the books I want to keep my eye on, but I am also experimenting with this.

To use WorldCat Lists, you must register for the site.  After you do a search for a book and bring up its record, there is an option to Save It.  You then have a drop down box to create a name for the list, or to add it to  pre-exisitng list. Pretty neat!

You could create a list to keep track of resources at

  • a specific library
  • a specific family surname
  • a specific library
  • a specific state

I use DabbleDB to do each of these options.  Currently, you can only add a book to a list one at a time, but you can add a book to multiple lists. It would be nice if you could add a book to more than one list at once and if there was some type of indication when looking at a WorldCat record if that item is already on one of your lists.

As an example of the feature, the book in the screenshot below was written by a descendant of Commodore Vanderbilt that I found while working on my Vanderbilt genealogy research.  In addition to adding this to my list of books for the Vanderbilt surname and I also added it to my list of books available here at Vanderbilt’s main library.

Once part of your list, you can go to that list and do quite a bit –

You can

  • get the URL to share the list with others
  • an RSS feed is available so others can keep track of what you are adding to your list
  • lists can be made public or private
  • can export to a spreadsheet
  • can print in a printer-friendly format
  • choose from multiple views to look at the items in your list, whether it be by the Worldcat record display, by book covers, or by citation view
  • can export reference list in one of five formats — as HTML, RSS, or in three different formats recognized by bibliographic management software
  • the format of the citation can be changed via a drop-down box to one of four formats – APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago, or Harvard

As part of your “lists,”  WorldCat provides 3 already established ones – Things to Check Out, Things I Recommend, and Things I Own.  If there a way as I mentioned above to look at a record and see who put it on their “Things I Own” list, this would be a great way for genealogists to see what others have and possibly help with Look-ups.  Methinks I will be writing to WorldCat about that! :-)

WorldCat has a number of other social features that are worth checking out too. They also have profiles, so I think I will go in and update mine.  You can also add a WorldCat app to your Facebook profile or to the Firefox browser. As a registered user of WorldCat, you can also add reviews to any book.

If you are interested in keeping up with all that WorldCat is doing, you can subscribe to their blog.

Princeville, NC – Wordless Wednesday Follow-up

Yesterday in my Wordless Wednesday post, I put up a picture of the historical marker of Freedom Hill, North Carolina.  Freedom Hill was an all African-American community established in Edgecombe County, North Carolina in 1865 by freed slaves. It is the oldest incorporated black town in the US, getting incorporated in 1885 as Princeville.  The community was named after Turner Richard Prince (1843-1912) who was a carpenter in the community.  In 1999, Princeville received nationwide attention after Hurricane Floyd hit the coast of NC as many of the town’s residents were displaced and there was extensive flood damage.

I first learned of Princeville when I purchased an Arcadia Publishing book on Edgecombe County last year.  At that time, I had no one in my family tree that I knew of that had any connections to Princeville, though my maternal grandmother’s McNair line started (as we know of) in Edgecombe County. When the Ancestry database of NC death certificates came out, one of the many discoveries I made was that there is indeed a connection.

My earliest known McNair ancestor, Rufus McNair (1823-1910) and his wife Mariah Wimberly (abt. 1843-1903) had at least 15 kids (in one census record, it is reported she had 22) that lived to adulthood. Two of their youngest, Susan & Sophia, both married a gentleman name Arthur Wooten.  Arthur married Susan first and together they had at least 8 children. Then, I believe Susan must have died and he then married her sister Sophia. With Sophia, he had at least 3 children.  Arthur Wooten Jr’s (son of Sophia) daughter Violet married George Mays and they for several years lived in Princeville.  Arthur & Susie were in Princeville in the 1910 census.

I discovered this after my mother, in going through some of her mother’s papers, found a double obituary for Violet and her husband George.  Since Princeville at that time was only a community of several hundred, I wonder if they knew Turner Prince? Possibly! Again, more flavor to add to the background context should I ever decide to do a formal write-up of my McNair ancestry.