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Archive for the ‘Cemeteries’ Category

Getting better at genealogical research involves many things. One important skillset is understanding and learning how to find relationships when no document states the relationship. The early years of genealogy are filled with the “low hanging fruit” of census records, marriage and death records, online documents, etc. When that fruit runs out—which I assure you it will—are you equipped to keep uncovering relationships in your family? That skill involves learning new methodologies and ways of approaching your research, as well as finding little clues and piecing them together through analysis. Elizabeth Shown Mills calls it “harvesting clues.” Here’s a good, short example from my own research.

My 2nd great grandmother Martha Simpson was born a freed woman in Anne Arundel (later Howard) County, MD. I found her and her siblings living with their mother in 1850. She married Levi Prather in Montgomery County, MD, birthed 12 children that survived to adulthood and lived there the rest of her life.  I had a few pages from a family bible that recorded both Martha’s siblings names and some of her own children:

Prather_BibleB

Bible Page B

Bible Page B

When Martha’s husband Levi died in 1894, Martha purchased 75 acres of land in 1897 from a man named Nicholas Moccabee and his wife. Martha lived in the same house with Nicholas and his wife in 1880, and lived next door to a widowed Nicholas in 1900, probably because she’d purchased some of their land.

1880martha_clip

1900martha_clip

These kind of connections should always arouse suspicion and curiosity in the diligent genealogist. Who is this couple–Nicholas and Harriet? Nicholas was also buried in the same cemetery as my ancestor Martha. So I decided to delve into Nicholas’ life more deeply. An obvious impediment was his name, “Moccabee” which was spelled umpteen different ways. But take a look at what I found in land records–(these are the year and the grantor/grantee):

1876, Willie R. Griffith to Nicholas “Macbee” and wife Leanna
1896, Nicolas “Mackabee” to Harriet L. Mackabee
1897, Nicholas “Mackabee” and wife Harriet L. to Martha J. Prather
1897, Harriet Leannah Mackabee and husband Nicholas to Sandy Spring Bank

His wife’s full name—her first and middle name—is only ever given in the last 1897 deed record above. His wife’s name was “Harriet Leannah.” With this critical clue, I unlocked the puzzle. I remembered Martha named one of her daughter’s “Harriet (Ann) Leanna.” If you go back to the bible records above, you’ll also see the name of “Leanna McAbee” on both pages. All of this provides evidence for one conclusion: Nicholas married Martha’s sister, Harriet Leanna Simpson. Later, I found an obituary for Nicholas Moccabee that provided the full (misspelled) name of his wife-“Harriett Lena Simpson”:

Obituary

Obituary

Notice that no record told me directly that Harriet Leanna, Nicholas’ wife,  was Martha’s sister. But I could draw that reasonable conclusion from the compilation and analysis of the relevant evidence. Later when I went back to the cemetery, I also found “H. Leannah McAbee’s” headstone right next to her husband Nicholas, and in the same group of Simpson family headstones.

Learn how to do this by reading genealogical case studies and learning how to extract clues from various records. I also recommend Thomas Jones’ book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.

A few months ago, I joyfully discovered a descendant of Harriet Leannah who still lived in Maryland. He and his family surprised me by accepting my invitation an attending our family reunion which was a few weeks ago. I thought I would cry right there! Since then, I have gotten to spend time with their wonderful family and share all the things I have discovered. They shared priceless historical photographs, and the one I was most happy to see was the photograph below of Harriet Leannah. The two sisters have finally been reunited!

Another ancestor–reclaimed! Readers, in the comments, I’d love to hear stories of how you pieced together a relationship through clues you found in the documents, when no document stated the relationship.

Harriet Leanna

Harriet Leanna

Martha

Martha

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I want to first thank Bernice Bennett for having me as a guest on her Blog Talk Radio show last night, Research at the National Archives and Beyond. I spoke about one of my most popular posts, Do You Have an Artificial Brick Wall? The post can be heard in its entirety at the show’s link, along with all of her other archived shows.

During the interview, as I was reviewing the points I made in that post, I discussed the idea of thoroughness in our research–the need to be diligent in searching out original records related to our ancestors. This week I have just the example to highlight that point.

We’ve all seen those shaky leaves on Ancestry. For a long time, I never clicked on them, but last year I found some treasures hidden within the 100 or so hints I had, so now I make a point to periodically investigate those leaves. Earlier this week, I found a leaf for an ancestor named Syvoid Holt. The leaf linked to an outside website–in this case the Monroe County [Michigan] Historical Museum. Several of my ancestors, including Syvoid,  migrated from Tennessee to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Co., and settled in Detroit and its suburbs.

The Museum website has, among other items, an obituary database. Upon request, they will email an obituary found in their database  for $1. What’s notable here is that I already knew who Syvoid’s parent’s were, his siblings, when and where he died, who he married and the names of his children. But my philosophy is to order any and all original records related to my ancestors. So off my request went. Here’s the obituary:

Syvoid Holt Obituary

Syvoid Holt Obituary

What I did not realize until I saw this is that I had never been able to locate the death certificate for his mother Vannie. I had expected to find it in Tennessee or Michigan but had no luck. This obituary revealed she had married a man surnamed Thurman and was alive as recently as 1969. When I looked at the records again, I found that Vannie actually had married another man before Thurman in 1938, a man named Dan Cathey. Dan died the very next year and sometime after that, she married a Thurman. That revelation led to finding this on Find-A-Grave:

Vannie Holt Thurman

Vannie Holt Thurman (photo by Lena Knauss)

Vannie is buried in the same cemetery as her two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson. Syvoid’s obituary contained the key to unlocking the mystery of where and when his mother Vannie had died. If I had dismissed this document because I already knew a lot of information about Syvoid, I wouldn’t have found this. Aim to be thorough in your research, and you will be rewarded time and time again. You never know what you’ll find in a document until you look at it. Shakey leaves rock!

P.S.–it goes without saying that I then ordered the death certificate for Vannie Thurman from Michigan Vital Records. At $34 a pop (ouch!) Michigan has the highest fee for records I’ve seen yet. I need more of my people to have died in Tennessee;)

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Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Well, last week I tried to make the best of being furloughed (fortunately I’m back at work) by doing some genealogy. I’d been wanting to re-visit one of my Prather family’s historic cemeteries in Montgomery County, MD, not far from where I live. The church was historically called Brooke Grove Methodist Church, and is on Maryland’s Inventory of Historic Properties. I discussed how useful these types of databases can be in a previous post.

Brooke Grove was started after the Civil War by a group of former slaves, several of whom had been enslaved together. Some were my Prather ancestors. Generations of the black community in this area are buried at this church. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place, with large oak trees, only interrupted by modern development. I can only imagine what it was like then.

View 1

View 1

View 2

View 2

Heritage Montgomery published a wonderful PDF brochure recently on the African-American churches of Montgomery County; Brooke Grove is described on page 23.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery since about 2009. It was a gorgeous sunny day when I went last week, and I knew so much more now about the community and the people. I could search with brand new eyes and I saw connections everywhere. Years ago when I visited, the headstone for my ggrandparents Levi Prather and Martha Simpson had broken apart:

Old Headstone

Old Headstone

At our family reunion later that year, I suggested we collect donations for a new headstone. I finally got to see it and it looks great!

New Headstone

New Headstone

Part of the purpose of my visit is that I wanted to put into practice some of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ guidance in her quicksheet, “The Historical Researchers Guide to Cluster Research.” I have used the clustering technique many times in my research successfully, but Ms. Mills gave many more examples of its use that I’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to do. Her quicksheet suggests using it at cemeteries. It’s the technique of noticing who is buried near your ancestor, especially those with different surnames. They probably are relatives.

Martha Simpson , from the headstone above, had several siblings buried nearby. The surname “Simpson” made them easy to notice:

Simpson Sibs

Simpson Sibs

Right behind these Simpsons headstones, were the headstones of Nicholas McAbee and his wife “H.Leannah”:

McAbee Headstone

McAbee Headstone

At the time I didn’t know it, but “H. Leannah” was Harriet Leannah Simpson, the sister of my ancestor Martha and wife of Nicholas. It makes sense that they were buried right behind the other Simpsons; the cluster was here at work. There were several McAbee women buried near Nicholas and likely related to him:

Other McAbees

Other McAbees

Here are Howard Prather and his wife Rosie’s headstones:

Howard and Rosie

Howard and Rosie

Right next to Rosie’s headstone is that of Elijah Lancaster:

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah was Rosie’s father; if you didn’t know her maiden name, the cemetery held a big clue.

I began to map out the cemetery on a few sheets of paper and I got about halfway through before I ran out of energy. There are clearly hundreds more buried at the cemetery than have surviving headstones today.

What adventures have you had at the cemetery lately? The next time you go, study the “cluster”; write down the names of those buried nearest your ancestors. Those individuals could very easily be the parents or family of the wife, or sisters hidden under their married names.

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I thought I’d post pictures from a wonderful black history tour I took in Boston a few years ago–if you’re there, check it out. I had no idea of the depth of black history that is in Boston–lots of famed black abolitionists and stops on the Underground Railroad, especially up on Beacon Hill. We toured the Granary Burial Ground, one of the oldest in the nation. The remains of the victims of the Boston massacre are there, including the black (and possibly native american) man, Crispus Attucks. Paul Revere is here, along with 3 signers of the Declaration and a huge mountain of a tombstone for Benjamin Franklin’s parents. Before this tour, I’d never seen headstones from the 1600/1700s before.

DSC00622

DSC00623

DSC00625

DSC00626

DSC00627

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TheoThis is my cousin, Theodore Prather (gloriously aged 94) standing in front of his mother’s headstone (Sarah Copelin) in Montgomery County, MD. Sarah is actually shown 7th from the left in the picture that heads my blog above. Those are members of the Prather family. My grandmother is on the far right end. We are having almost a 200-person reunion in 2 weeks that the family has been planning for about 5 months. I am sooo excited!

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We Tree’s Weekly Genealogy Prompt #27 asks us to visit the graves of local celebrities and talk about their lives. I’ll do a small twist on this which is that the celebrity is not in my local area, but is in the local area I am researching.

My maternal ancestors are from a rural, Southwestern county in Tennessee called Hardin County that most folks haven’t heard of unless they’re from there or have been following my post. Many of my family members lived in a town called Hooker’s Bend, which is fodder enough for another post, but Hardin County’s largest city is Savannah (you didn’t know there was one in Tennessee, did you?) Well, as the title of my post exposes, Alex Haley (the author of Roots) is Savannah’s biggest celebrity and he plays a prominent role in the tourism brochures for the area.

Alex Haley grew up in Hening, Tennessee, which is actually several counties over in Lauderdale County. But the reason Alex is Hardin County royalty is that his grandparents were prominent and well-known Savannah citizens from the end of the 19th through the early 20th century. They were Alec/Alex Haley and his wife Queen. They’re also (stated with utter pride) in my family. (His name is found in records written both ways, but I will call him “Alec” in this post to differentiate between him and his grandson.)

Alex Haley

Alec Haley

Queen Haley

Queen Haley

The Holts (my grandfather’s surname) are one of my major Hardin County lines and they intermarried with Haleys in two places on my tree. This is sorta confusing, but I’ll give it a shot: my great-great-aunt, Madelina Holt, married Abner Haley. Abner was one of Alec and Queen’s sons. Their other son, Simon, was Alex Haley’s father. Another Holt ancestor married Julia Haley, who was the daughter of Abner Haley. So there are Holts and Haleys all over the place.

Let me tell you a little bit more about Alec and his wife Queen, because they were a fascinating couple. Alec’s fame was mostly because he operated the ferry that took people across the Tennessee river to the city of Savannah when that was the quickest way to travel if your horse took too long. So he knew just about everybody in town, white or black. One year (I can’t remember what year) he saved a white woman who almost drowned, so after that, he was vaulted to forever sit amongst the echelons of “most beloved” colored folk (this incident was written in the local newspaper).

The Cherrys were one of the wealthiest families in Hardin County from the early-mid 1800s, and they owned what came to be known as the Cherry Mansion. The Cherry Mansion sits right on the side of the Tennessee river and was where Alec Haley’s ferry picked up passengers to go “‘cross the river”. His (mulatto) wife Queen worked in the Cherry mansion. Their house was about 100 yards from the Cherry Mansion. So Alec drove the ferry and his wife worked for one of the richest white families in the area. The Cherry Mansion (which still stands and is a tourist attraction) was so grand that when General Grant brought the Civil War through Hardin County for the Battle of Shiloh, he camped out at the Cherry Mansion. Much of this is covered in the book and movie.

When Roots and Queen shot Alex Haley to fame, there was a rush of visitors to Savannah, and people sought out elderly folks, both white and black, to ask them their memories of the couple. This created a positively rich record of them passed down via oral history, in addition to the wonderful book written by Alex. All kinds of neat details emerged, like the fact that  people got baptized down at the river. One woman talked about when the circus came to town, how the elephants would swim across the river. Alec was described as a hard-working, smart, honest man who didn’t like “no ‘ficety kids.” Queen was a tiny woman, who claimed Captain Jackson was her father her entire life (she came from Alabama). Queen’s “mental spells” were the stuff of legend–everyone knew of her time spent in the mental hospital at Bolivar. Her spells “made an indelible impression on everybody.” One elder claims, “Miss Queen had fits, but she told us she acted that way to get what she wanted!” Others agreed about how smart she was and how they loved to hear her witty sayings: talking once about a girl’s dress being too short, Queen suggested she put a “condition” around the bottom of it–meaning a ruffle;) Queen’s spectacular way with gardening was noted: “She was crazy about flowers and her yard was beautiful. She had elephant ear plants all over the place.” Stories like these are the kind I live for in genealogy.

As a genealogist, I have enjoyed tracking this family through the census. By 1930, Abner and Madelina Holt Haley migrated to Detroit, part of the Great Migration of African-Americans to the North to find better employment and escape the hardships of the South. Last summer, I joyfully got to meet several of my Haley ancestors who live outside Detroit, in a township called Inkster. We exchanged pictures and information about our shared Tennessee roots.

Meeting Haley Cousins

Meeting Haley Cousins

I see my cousin Chris Haley much more often since he’s also here in Maryland and does alot of genealogy-related activities. Alex Haley is his uncle and he also is affiliated with the Kunte Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation. He keeps the Roots message alive in his speaking engagements and reminds us all of the wonderful gift Alex Haley left ALL genealogists. In this picture, we were at the FGS Conference in Philadelphia last year.

Robyn and Chris

Robyn and Chris

I’ll end with a photo of Alec Haley’s grave down in Savannah:

Alex Haley Grave

Alex Haley Grave

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I have been meaning to blog about this for some time but have just gotten some mental space and all the pictures together. I truly wanted to do it for the previous Weekly Genealogy Blogging Prompt #25 about cemetery visits, so even though this is a little late I humbly submit it here for all to see;)

I blogged about the pleasant drive down to Raleigh, NC in May for the NGS Conference. On the way down, Carole and I decided to stop in Enfield, NC (Halifax County) and meet our friends Alice and Bill who were going cemetery searching. We decided to join in for the fun. I’m so glad we did.

Carole had gotten them connected up with the Clark Funeral Home, and they were told someone there could help them on their search in Enfield for ancestors in cemeteries. Instantly, when I walked inside Clark, it conjured up thoughts and memories of rural funeral homes with their unique brand of tending to the deceased: the antique parlor furniture, the crimson carpets, the mahogany writing desk for signing the guest book, the portrait of Jesus, the quaint chapel and the smell of…I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a very distinct smell;)

Clark Funeral Home

Clark Funeral Home

We went inside and were introduced to a man named Eddie. When Alice and Bill arrived, the real fun began. Eddie commenced to giving us all what can only rightfully be described as the history of blacks in Enfield, NC. We all sat enraptured for at least the next 45 minutes as he ran down the ownership of this and other funeral homes, families he knew, little known facts about the town, race relations…you name it and this man knew it. He was brilliant and funny at the same time. He had this thick and wonderful Southern drawl, and a vivacious energy that was just totally unexpected. He looked at us and would say, before pronouncing some fact,“I’m not tellin’ ya somethun’ I heard…I’m tellin’ you somethun’ I know.” Alice got her pad out & started writing like any good genealogist. This is the kinda stuff that isn’t written in any history book and needs to be, and when you have a chance encounter with one of these folks, you have to be ready to capture it.

You see, Eddie had been in the funeral home business for more than 40 years. Not only did he have a firm grasp of local history, but he was a political and social activist with a long resume on a national scale. He regaled in showing us his picture with Obama, from the Democratic National Convention. I just found him to be a fascinating gentleman. After some time, a man named Shirra, the current owner of Clark Funeral Home (whose name I am probably not spelling correctly) arrived and we were off to hunt down ancestors. He took us all in the limousine. Yes, it was the funeral home limousine, but it was still a limousine!

Enfield is a small rural town that does not seem to have a large population and is filled with the requisite winding, two-lane dirt roads, outside dog pens, abandoned fields and dilapidated sharecropper’s houses. Still, there’s something I love about places like this.  It’s a different energy than you find in large cities, where I grew up. An enhanced sense of nature. Everything is magnified: the birds sing louder, the flowers are brighter, I don’t know. As we drove, Shirra and Eddie were now a two-man history lesson, pointing out churches and giving us “the run-down”. It was incredible. If my family was from Enfield, I probably would have just exploded on the spot out of sheer and utter excitement.

We stopped at the former plantation home of John Branch, a former state governor in the years 1817-1820 and U.S. Senator. I can imagine this place was a marvel back in the early 1800s. Heck, it’s still for the most part standing. I don’t know why that home isn’t being preserved.

Home of John Branch

Home of John Branch

Back of Branch House

Back of Branch House

Shirra suspected that some of Branch’s slaves were buried in the back, in the family cemetery.  I checked John Branch’s 1860 Slave census and he had lots of slaves. The family cemetery sat underneath what can only be described as the biggest magnolia tree I have ever seen in my life. It surely needs to be winning some sort of botany award. Look at the size of the blossom!

Magnolia Tree

Magnolia Tree

Magnolia Bloom

Magnolia Bloom

Guess what else? The family cemetery was underneath the magnolia tree! It was really something to see. In this 90+ degree heat, the cemetery (which was enclosed by a metal fence) was cooling under a canopy of enormous blooms and branches. I have never seen anything like it. I kept thinking, I bet this tree has some stories to tell.

Cemetery

Cemetery

More headstones

More headstones

Caught in the Tree

Caught in the Tree

I was extremely paranoid about snakes in the tall grass and also poison ivy, but notwithstanding all that, we all did a fair amount of looking around.

After that, Shirra and Eddie rode us around to at least two other cemeteries, taking a good 3 hours out of their day to help out this group of total strangers. They were gracious and kind and extremely knowledgeable. Southern Hospitality is real. I felt very fortunate that the spirits led us to these two men. It was a great afternoon and completely in line with the kinds of things that happen in genealogy. This town, in my mind, was representative of so many small towns: just bursting at the seams with history and somebody in town who probably knows it. It’s up to us to find that person (or group of persons), record it and write it down. That’s something I feel really passionate about.

Eddie, Alice, Robyn, Shirra and Bill

Eddie, Alice, Robyn, Shirra and Bill

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