Connecting with Cuil

With all the fanfare around the launch of the Cuil.com search engine, I was planning to spend a little time exploring the site. In all of 5 minutes earlier today, I had formed my initial impressions of it – that I’m not sure I like it.  But, that could be me being hasty and not accepting something new, so I’ll spend some time later this week doing more investigations.

However, it has already done something for me. Today, I was contacted by a descendant of one of the family trees I am working on, that of James Carroll Napier.   We just spent an hour and half on the phone having the best conversation and just like other Napiers I’ve been contacted by, he’s declared me an honorary cousin!

His branch of the family has had a strong oral history and his uncle used to spend time at the house of JC & wife, Nettie. How cool!  DB (we’ll call him) found me as he was playing around with Cuil himself looking for any heretofore unknown JC Napier items and found the pictures I’d posted to Find A Grave of JC’s and family tombstones.

Here’s to Cuil for making me a new genealogy buddy!

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to the new blog location!

I decided to move my blog to my own web server so please update your links and bookmarks accordingly. Why the move?

  • I needed additional flexibility in the look of my blog. When hosted on WordPress’s site, I am limited to small selection of themes. Now, I have hundreds to choose from!
  • I also wanted to use my own web server. Since I am paying for the space, I might as well use it
  • Now that I’m self-hosted, I can incorporate all kinds of neat functions that I couldn’t do on wordpress.com

Apparently, I chose a perfect time to do this too.  WordPress just released a new version of the software, and they unveiled a directory to select themes. The installation was also very easy. I still have some work to do in updating links, but I plan to move some of my other blogs first and then do that.

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!

Footnote Findings & Feature Friday

I haven’t been working on my own family genealogy much this past two weeks or so – we’ve been rather busy and I’ve been devoting quite a bit of time to a few other genealogy projects; but, tonight I took a few minutes to play around on Footnote’s website.  I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I have developed some blogging memes – one of them was to take a database a month and search/browse for content relative to my genealogy blogs. I call it “Feature Friday”.

  • Last week, I found something in Footnote for my Kinston Free Press blog of deceased soldiers from Kinston on the Vietnam Memorial
  • Tonight I found a UFO sighting that was reported in Plymouth, NC for my Roanoke Beacon Blog
  • And, I just blogged about a descendant of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt (namesake of my employing institution) who was approached to go in with a group of people to buy an island in France and make the American dollar the legal tender.

The time that I spend poking around gives me a better sense of the collections – as we know, much information continues to be frequently added.

For my own family tree however, back in May I found my grandmother’s brother listed on a crew list for the USS Neosho.  I already knew he was on this ship and let me tell you, that ship saw some crazy action – I leared a couple of years ago that about 80% of the crew was lost in action around the time of Pearl Harbor.  That is a story for another post – but my spotlight page is here.  I believe I have overcome my “battle with footnote”  :-)

No affiliation with

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.