Last week, I lost another member of my family. My grandmother Cora passed away and her funeral was Sunday. It was a beautiful service. She was 73 years old and had been getting progressively sicker over the past few months after having a stroke. Her funeral service was beautiful and I was so fortunate to be able to see family that I have not seen in years. She grew up in Craven County, NC, so while there I was able to revisit family homes, sites, etc and learn more about my family from relatives. I’ll blog more later, but after being there, I am ever more committed to maintaining/developing relationships with my family and learning more about the family history.
Today I got back some information from Social Security. I sent away for my great-grandmother’s SS-5 form. Prior to today, we did not know her parents’ names. We had a suspicion based on census records, but it turned out our suspicion was incorrect. So, we now know their names for certainty! This was very encouraging and I am definitely going to order more SS-5 forms in the future. They are expensive though at $27 a piece, so I’ll have to ration it out.
Over the past few weeks I have continued to receive more death and birth certificates that I wrote away for. Over the past couple of months I have accumulated approximately 100 of them! Each one continues to add new information that I can add to the website. If only all states were as easy as NC though — for example, in AL, you can only request certified copies of them, so the cost is much more than NC’s uncertified copies. Also, Alabama has restrictions on what years can be ordered (no death certificates younger than 25 years and no birth certificates younger than 100 years). That sucks.
Over the next few weeks I plan to start seriously drafting a plan for indexing the newspaper of a county in NC where my maternal grandmother is from. At first, I was all gung-ho and thought I would index the whole paper. But then I realized, it would probably be more beneficial to genealogists if I first did the obituaries, and then went back and did other parts of the paper. My model for this is the online index of Evansville, IN area deaths. I love this site and I found quite a bit of information on my husband’s family by using it.
My family found out today that we have lost a family member – one of my grandmother’s brothers – Abraham Lincoln McNair, Jr. Uncle June had been out of touch with the family for years. We knew that he was living in the New York area but had not been able to find him. In part inspired by my recent activities in researching the family, my mother began to look for him again in earnest. Well, we found out we were about a month weeks too late. The police department in the area that we had a last known address for him informed us that he died on February 9th.
I have only one memory of Uncle June from when I was about 8 years old or so and we were visiting my grandmother. He was prone to seizures and while we were visiting her, he had a seizure in the living room. My mother was particularly close to Uncle June and has told me many stories about him. We are devastated to think that he died alone in the hospital with no family around, but I understand that is how he lived his life. My grandmother does not know and we probably will not tell her. She has Alzheimer’s and is in a home and this is now her third brother to pass (of four). This is why it is so important to know about family. If we had not continued to search for him, we may have never known what happened.
A few days ago I received pictures of two more of my relatives headstone markers. My great-aunts Lucinda and Ethel. Unfortunately, Ethel’s name is not on the marker with her husband, but she is there. Also, my great-grandmother Lucinda (Ethel & Lucinda’s mother is buried in the same cemetery. However, she does not have a marker of any kind. My mother and I are looking into how we may be able to get one for her now, even after all these years (she passed in 1969).
I really must change this blog template — I hate having to assign titles to my posts…
This weekend I went to the public library to check out their genealogy collection. There was one book in particular that I wanted to look at but the information in it was not as useful as I hoped. However, I do have a sense now of their holdings so I’ll probably plan to go back sometime next month to look at microfilm of census records. While I can access them online, I need to use the actual records b/c there are some family members that I will need to scroll through pages and pages to find as I’m not having any luck in Ancestry. (Ancestry takes a long time to view records page by page).
While at the library I picked up a copy of a genealogy book for African-Americans. Can’t think of the name right now, but though from 1999 it is pretty informative. On the research end, I continue to make progress! I have found someone to take pictures of relative tombstones in NY and also someone to take pictures in North Carolina. I am deeply appreciative when people can help like this! I am doing my best to give back as well.
Over the weekend I worked more on Kalonji’s maternal line — oh my goodness — I found so much information! This part of his family has been in the Evansville, IN area for at least the last 60 years or so. I found a database of obituaries from the Evansville area papers that a funeral director created as a personal project years ago. It was put online in the mid 1990’s and I just couldn’t believe how much information I was able to find out from it. This is exactly the kind of project I’d love to be able to do one day (yeah right! like I ever have time). But, I was very impressed with it. I also learned from Kalonji’s mother that she has an ancestor who was a slave and she heard stories of how this woman had lost toes from the cold and working out in the fields. I too have a maternal ancestor who was a slave and lost toes due to cold. I was surprised to hear this same thing again but from Kalonji’s family.
And, a note about my side of the family — my 3G grandfather Rufus, had 13 children. Between them all, these 13 children had about 70+ children. Can you imagine being one of Rufus’ grandchildren and having like 70 COUSINS!!!! How would you keep up with each other? And, the wild part is that they all had to know each other — they grew up in the same town and lived in close proximity. That is just so crazy to me. I have a total of 8 first cousins. Goes to show how we as a society are having fewer and fewer children these days.
Today’s mail brought another 20 or so birth/death certificates. I am thrilled to say the least. And, among them, I made a very interesting discovery.
My paternal great-grandmother’s name was Josephine. In her funeral program and on her death certficate, it stated that her mother’s name was Priscilla. In searching census records looking for Josephine as a child, the only black Josephine in Craven County, NC at anywhere near the right age was living in a household with a sister named Priscilla and a mother named Polly. So, I began to wonder as to the accuracy of the funeral program and the death certificate. From Josephine’s funeral program, I knew that she had a sister named Dizzer (what a name right?) Well, I received a copy of Dizzer’s delayed birth certificate today. On the birth certificate, her parents are listed at Tom Holloway and Pollie Hood. Furhtermore, one of her items of “evidence” to her birthdate was an affadavit from her older sister “Parcilla”. Looks like my suspicions were right! Priscilla (Parcilla) was not their mother, she was their sister and their mother was indeed Polly (Pollie). I can only surmise that at the time of Josephine’s death, the family must have misremembered her mother’s name. Tonite, I discovered a new generation of ancestors — my great-great grandparents Tom & Polly.
On my maternal side of the family, of significance so far are three death certificates I received. My mother’s mother’s mother (Mattie) had 10 children. Five that lived, five that died. My mother always heard about my grandmother’s siblings that never got a chance to grow up – they died as babies/toddlers. Two girls and one boy that we know of. I also know from one birth certificate that Mattie had a stillborn child. There is still one child unaccounted for, so we will have to ask my grandmother about that. I really cannot imagine what it must be like to lose half of children – -in reading their death certificates, I was just filled with sadness for this loss of life.
- Abraham Jr was 2 years old. He died of 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his arms and legs. My mother is not quite sure what happened, but she did remember that he somehow got hot water on him and this caused his burns.
- Daisy was almost two years old when she died. Cause of death appears to be Laryngeal Diptheria (hard to read on the certificate).
- Martha Jane had just turned one when she died. We can’t read the cause of death, but we know that one child passed away from an overdose of some medicine that people used to give children to sleep while they worked in the fields. Tragic to think that people resorted to this, but maybe this was her cause of death.
So sad. Also, a rather interesting thing I noticed, on each of their death certificates, the date of birth is slightly off from the date of birth on their birth certificates. For record purposes, I am going with the date of birth on their birth certificates since it was closer to the actual event, but I find it again striking how variable people’s birthdays seemed to be years ago. From census records, I have seen ages fluctuating quite widely between the 10 years and this is an interesting phenomenon to me. Were birthdays not as celebrated as they are now? I surmise that with the creation of state record keeping requirements, this has helped establish dates more concretely.
Yesterday and today, Calverton National Cemetery emailed me pictures of some of my relative’s gravesites. Several of the men in my family served in the military and at least four that I know of so far are buried in military cemeteries. I attended the funeral of my maternal grandfather Herman so I remember his. Two of Herman’s brothers are also buried in the same cemetery as he. Then, my maternal grandmother has a brother who is also buried in the same cemetery as well. In addition, I have a distant cousin who died in 1959 who is in Long Island National Cemetery. I think their headstone pictures are beautiful. I like knowing exactly where they are and knowing that I will be able to pass that on to the younger generations in the family.
Also, I was able to find a book that has a listing of cemeteries in Washington County, NC where my maternal grandmother is from. There is a library that is sending me the photocopied pages of the book. I am so excited. The librarian informed me that there are three McNair cemeteries in Washington County with a total of around 100 people. One of the cemeteries is named the Rufus McNair cemetery – Hello! Rufus McNair is my 3rd Great Grandfather – this has to be his cemetery!
Last night brought some more information! I received two emails in response to some posts I made on Ancestry that yielded some beneficial information.
1) Someone was able to send me a list of marriages of persons of color from the book Somebody Knows My Name by Barbara McGhee White. In the list is the marriage of my great-great-great-grandfather, James Koonce, to his first wife Susan. They got married in 1860 and I learned her maiden name – it was Craff.
2) I also was provided a link to an online database of deaths in the five boroughs of NY from 1891-1945. In searching that database, I think I have located the death date of my mother’s grandfather. There is only one Lewis Robinson listed that comes close to even being him! My uncle lives in NY, so he is going to the Municipal Archives sometime within the next couple of weeks to check it out and if it is him, get a copy of the death certificate for us. Maybe, just maybe, Lewis’ death certificate will have his parents names — here’s to hope. Furthermore, it turns out I am going to help contribute to the cause and will be helping add more records to the database! The coordinator is going to send me papers that I will help transcribe into Excel.
I am having the hardest time learning much about the very line whose name I have! Barfield is the furthest back I can go and I thought that once I received his death certificate, I would surely get his parents names. No such luck. It came in the mail today and both fields are “unknown.” Barfield was my great-grandfather and he died in 1953. I did learn that he died of a fall that occurred a few days before his death and he struck his back. Official designation: Fracture of the cervical spine. My father’s other grandfather also died of injuries as a result of a fall.
I also got Barfield’s wife’s death certificate. Josephine Holloway Koonce died in 1977. I was hoping for her father’s name on her death certificate, but that was blank too. It had her mother’s name on there which confirmed the name I had from her obituary. I am having trouble locating Josephine’s family as well, but will keep investigating.
And, on my mother’s side of the family, a cousin sent me the printed family tree from the McNair Family Reunion. The McNairs are based for the most part in Plymouth, NC and let me tell you — I think I am related to every McNair in that area – there are so many of them! The farthest back we go so far is to Rufus (b. 1824) and Mariah. They had 12 children at least and then each of those children had tons of children. Too many McNairs! Kaleya is a 6th generation descendant of Rufus & Mariah McNair – they are her 4G grandparents. 6 GENERATIONS! That is amazing to me. But, this is great information to have because it confirms that all those McNairs I’ve been seeing in the census records are indeed relatives. The quest to get as many birth/death certificates as possible seems neverending…. As of tonite, there are 142 individuals in Rufus’ descendant chart and I’ve only put in about 50% of his grandchildren.
These past 2-3 weeks have been exhilarating! I have been so fortunate to have been able to find great information on my ancestors and related family that I have just been walking around in a constant state of excitement. I have been so preoccupied in the hunt, I haven’t even taken the time for reflection that I intended this blog to bear. I don’t expect that I will post here more than weekly, or as I make great finds but we will see what happens. If I find that I am just not blogging like I think I should, then I will re-evaluate.
For now, here have been the highlights of my research:
1. I have received approximately 20 certificates (birth and/or death) on various family members from writing to the county specific register of deeds offices. I have requests out for at least 30 more and plan to write more requests this week for another 15 or so. Fortunately, the counties that my family are from have cheap fees for uncertified copies – the average price is twenty-five cents.
2. Using census records after I joined Ancestry I was able to find ancestors another 2-3 generations back on some of my lines. The ancestor tree for my maternal grandmother for example is complete to her great-grandparents and it is one of her lines that I have my earliest ancestor – Prince Walker born in 1812. I can only surmise that Prince was a slave but have not yet done any research to this end.
3. I have “met” and reconnected with family members. As a result, it is likely that I will make my best efforts from now on to attend my family reunions. I have two coming up this summer that I hope to be able to go to. Doing so will be an incredible opportunity to connect and hear family stories.
There has been so much more I have done, but I have to go to bed for now! Doing my family history is making me feel so connected to my past – it is a wonderful,wonderful thing. I am learning so much and truly appreciate being able to have this knowledge that I can now share with my own family.