Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Finding July Cooper

I probably shouldn't say this too loudly (shhh!), but I've had a little extra brainspace over the past couple of weeks. And you know what I do when that happens!

Ever since I visited my mother's family's land in Georgia, I've been really interested in digging deeper into the stories of the Coopers who lived there and came before. So a good part of my evenings and weekends has been spent reviewing the records I already have, along with the family trees our Cooper family historians have previously put together and the memoir my cousin wrote, and then plotting how to find out more. That's resulted in a number of city directory listings and some useful World War II Draft Registration Cards, among other things.

I am ashamed, however, to say that it also resulted in a new census record, and one I definitely should have found before. You see, in 1880, my great-great-grandfather, July Cooper, Jr, was living in the 114th Militia District of Hancock County, GA. Living with him was his wife, Scoatney, written here as Sconey. You can see them highlighted in purple, below.

The young couple, listed here as 22 and 19 years old, are working as laborers while living in the household of the much older Andrew (83) and Silvy (69) Tucker, and their grandson, Freeman Tucker. What is the relationship between the Coopers and the Tuckers?

Maybe, I thought, I can find out more about the Tuckers - let's look for them in the 1870 census. Maybe this will give me a clue as to where July was in 1870, or why he's with them in 1880.

Well, I still don't ave an answer to the second piece, but now I definitely know where July was.

1870 U.S. Federal Census listing July Cooper, Jr as July Tucker and Living with Andrew and Silvia Tucker
in Hancock County, GA.

He's living right there in Hancock County, GA, with Andrew and Silvia Tucker! Age, location, and clustering of people absolutely makes sense - it's only the surname that doesn't. Why is he listed as Tucker? Perhaps there's a story there. Or perhaps the census taker or informant just didn't know any better. (And bonus question: Who is 9-year-old Sid or Sia Tucker?)

What's fun about this is that just a few pages away, you can see the young lady who would become July's wife, 10 years old to his 12, and living with her family. ( I make this assertion because her death certificate, completed by her son Flag, lists her parents as Solomon and Cherry Scott. We have nothing stating a clear familial relationship between July Cooper and the Tuckers, which is why I don't make a similar claim for them.)

1870 U.S. Federal Census listing Scoatney Scott - July's future wife - as Scodney Scott, also living in Hancock County, GA.

I won't continue to kick myself for not trying this sooner to find July in 1870. I'll just say that I am so happy to have found this record! Each piece of information I accumulate about the individuals in this generation  - ancestors who were born before the Civil War - gets me one step closer to learning more about my family's relationship to slavery in the United States. And while that will be a difficult journey, it's one I absolutely want to take.

Do you know anything about the Coopers - or Scotts - during the Civil War or before? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I've Been Profiled on GeneaBloggers!

Before the thought of starting my own genealogy blog crossed my mind, I'd stopped by Geneabloggers.com many times, looking for new blogs to explore and more examples of personal family history research processes. I wanted to know how other people were doing their research, what tools, tips, and techniques they were using to unlock answers to their pasts, and how they were sharing the info they'd uncovered.

That's why it's super cool that my own blog is now listed on the website, and even cooler that I've been profiled in their "May I Introduce to You..." series. Many thanks to Wendy Mathias for the great comments and for reaching out and lifting up my voice!

Please stop by Geneabloggers.com to read my profile and to discover other family history bloggers doing interesting research and writing!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Mystery Monday: What's the What With David Whaley?

I’ve been researching my paternal Whaley family for a few months now. I know that a number of Whaley – children of Kit Whaley and his wives Julia and Grace – moved to Steubenville, Ohio in the early-mid 1900s, and that, before this, they lived in Baker Co., Georgia.

So I was pretty surprised when, as I was researching these Whaley siblings, I came across a 1918 Death Certificate for a 14-year-old “David Whaley alias Wilson” in Pittsburgh, PA. Huh?

As you can see, David’s parents are Kit Whaley and Julia Jones, from Georgia – it’s pretty likely he’s part of the same family I’ve been researching. But why is he in Pittsburgh, especially as a 14-year-old boy? (The other Whaleys appear to at least have been in their 20s when they left Georgia for Ohio.) And who is this Emma Wilson with whom he’s living? What’s the story here – what can I find out?

I’ve done a little digging and I have a hypothesis, but I need more evidence before I’m satisfied.

I’ve found Emma Wilson in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census records for Pittsburgh. They state that she was born in Georgia, and suggest a birth date sometime between 1888 and 1894. Likewise, her husband Willis Wilson and their two children, Willis Jr., and Oscar, were also born in Georgia.

I've also found Emma Wilson’s death certificate. Again, her birthplace is given as Georgia. More importantly, it gives the names of her parents: Henry Jones and Margaret.

Remember: David Whaley’s mother is listed as Julia Jones. If Emma’s maiden name was also Jones and she’s also from Georgia, perhaps she and Julia are related.

So, I turned to the census to see what I could find in Georgia for a household with Henry and Margaret Jones.

Success! Here’s a household headed by Henry and Margret Jones in 1870 in…Baker County, GA, the same place we find the Whaleys! Notice that there's a 9-year-old Julia Jones in that household.

1880 gives us what appears to be the same family, still in Baker County, except that (because the universe never makes this easy) the mother is listed as Jones Jones. Notice that it lists both a Julia Jones and an Emma Jones as their daughters!

Now, here’s what’s challenging: the ages don’t match up. The Julia Jones who is married to Kit Whaley in the 1900 census was born about 1872, whereas the Julia Jones in the household of Henry and Margaret was born between 1861 and 1864. And the Emma Jones in that same household was born about 1873, whereas the information on our Pittsburgh Emma Jones suggests a birth year between the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Yet, we know that records – especially ones created when an individual is much older – can get birth years wrong. So I’m not ready to toss this Baker County Jones family aside. Instead, I’d like to look for more evidence.

But wait – I’ve found another tantalizing bit! Information about Oscar Wilson’s death is available on (remember, he’s one of the sons of Emma and Willis Wilson) and it say he was born in Tifton, GA.

A search on Ancestry for Willis Wilson in and around Tifton brought up both a marriage certificate for Willis Wilson to Emma Jones (Berrien County, 1899) and a 1900 Census Record for the pair (Berrien County). Berrien County is just a few counties east of Baker County, a modern drive of about an hour and 15 minutes.

Two things to notice about that census record:

1) Look at who else is listed on the page: a widowed Margret Jones, born about 1840:

2) And, look at the household with Carlie Jones, who has named two of his daughters Emma and Julia.

The Margret Jones on this census is the same approximate age as the mother of Julia Jones and wife of Henry Jones in the 1870 census. The Carlie Jones listed here is born within the date range for the Charlie Jones who is listed as a child of Henry and Margret in 1870 and again in 1880. (You can see him next to Julia in the relevant census snippets above.)

People often named their children after their siblings; this Carlie Jones is probably Henry and Margret's son. None of this seems like just a coincidence.

So my hypothesis is that 1) Emma Wilson and Julia Jones were sisters, and thus 2) that David Whaley was living with his maternal aunt Emma in Pittsburgh.

One thing I’m still missing, though, is clear proof that the Julia Jones who married Kit Whaley is definitely the Julia Jones whose parents were Henry and Margret Jones. So I’ll be hunting for anything that connects these three individuals: a birth record for Julia, records for her marriage to Kit Whaley (perhaps an application for a marriage license would have her parents’ names?), a death certificate, etc.

After that, there's still the question of why David was living with his (likely) aunt Emma in Pittsburgh, when almost all of his siblings were still in Georgia. I'll keep digging, but that'll be a story for another day!

Ideas? Suggestions? Please leave 'em in the comments section below!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Upcoming Speaking Engagements!

I love genealogy, and every now and then I'm lucky enough to get to share that love publicly. Two such opportunities are coming up in February.

First, on Tuesday, 2/7, I and several other members of the awesome African American Genealogy Group (of Philadelphia) will be participating in a post-show conversation following the Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Details here, under the PEP and Special Events heading on the right: http://philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/shows/having-our-say/

Then, on Thursday, 2/16, I'll be the featured speaker for the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania's Third Thursday program. In honor of Black History Month, the topic will be Finding Your African American Ancestors. Details here: https://genpa.org/events/third-thursdays/ (Note: the listing will be updated soon with a bio and details of my talk.)

Perhaps I'll see you there!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Visiting the Cooper-Thomas Cemetery, Burke County, GA

**This looks like a long post, but it's full of pictures!**

Last July, my mother, sister and I traveled to Georgia to meet up with her siblings and extended maternal family at the Cooper-Cummings Family Reunion. While there were lots of nice moments at the reunion, some of which are pictured here, the highlight for me was absolutely getting to visit the family cemetery on our final day in Georgia.

Driving toward the cemetery, in Burke County, Georgia.

 A little over a year ago, I wrote a very excited blog post detailing my discovery of my maternal great-great-grandmother Scoatney Scott Cooper’s will. Written in 1924, the will describes how she would like her land – yes, her land – divided amongst her children, and it’s such an amazing record to have been left behind by a woman who was likely born in the early years of the Civil War. It is on this land that the Cooper-Thomas Cemetery rests.

Driving to the land from any of the surrounding cities requires traveling down ever-smaller highways and roads, until you leave paving behind altogether and kick up red dust as you drive down narrow dirt lanes.



The cemetery, and family land, are in Burke County, Georgia, near the unincorporated town of Gough. The land on which the Coopers lived (and on which some still spend their time) was simply Coopertown. Before they and their children moved up to Washington, DC, my maternal great-grandparents Noah and Nancy (Thomas) Cooper lived on this land, alongside Noah’s siblings like Julia, Daniel, and Andrew.

Noah Cooper and Wife Nancy (Thomas) Cooper
Watching the trees and fields go past as we drove, stepping out of the car into the dirt lane next to the cemetery, seeing the old buildings in Gough as we left – it felt like a trip not only through space but also time; I’ve always lived and worked in cities. 

This wooden shack sits on land that was owned by my great-grandfather Noah's brother Daniel.

The shack on Daniel's land.

Imagining the darkness at night, the sense of community but also of danger for African Americans clustered together in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction – I wonder what life was like for Scoatney, her husband July, and their kin on this land. What did they see and experience?*

The cemetery itself is fairly small. It’s surrounded on three sides by trees and brush, bordered on the other by a dirt lane, across which is a field. There were 44 burials that we could count, and perhaps more that have been grown over. 

Two views of the Cooper-Thomas Cemetery, and of the Cooper/Thomas descendants exploring it.

Not every grave appeared to be marked, and some that were were barely legible. Still, we tried our best to get down as much as we could about each grave and while my mother and sister took photos of each headstone or marker, I worked on a diagram of burials for future reference.

The three earliest headstones that remained at all legible were those in the upper right hand of the diagram above, numbers 5, 6, and 7:

Dedicated to the Memory of Jane P. Thomas...departed this life June 21, 1853

Bodner A. Thomas...Died Aug. 10, 1835

Dedicated to the Memory of William Thomas...June 15, 1853
The remaining numbered ones we noted as follows:
  • 1: toppled headstone of Jackson Keepler, died June 1909, aged 55. (Note: FindAGrave says this is the headstone for Jackson's wife, Emily Keepler, but there is no associated picture. My image shows only Jackson's name, but the grave marker is partially buried in the dirt.)
  • 2: small stone (footstone?), no marks
  • 3: small stone (footstone?), no marks
  • 4: illegible gravestone
  • 8: small stone (footstone?), no marks
  • 9: small stone (footstone?), no marks
Most of the (legible) headstones are from deaths in the mid-late 20th century, but the cemetery is still active, with burials as recent as 2014. 

I don't know how everyone in the cemetery is related to me - many of the names are unfamiliar. But there are a few I recognized right off the bat: my great-great grandmother Scoatney Cooper, her daughters Mandana Sheely and Julia Cooper Davis, Julia's husband John Hildery Davis, and my great-grandfather's brother Andrew Cooper, on whose land the cemetery rests. There are others where I need to do some sleuthing, interviewing my living relatives (including Julia and John Davis' children!), and checking the historical record.

In any case, just being on the land where my ancestors lived, worked, played and died was a magical - almost unreal - experience. That tangible connection to the people who came before - the dirt, the tombstones, the landscape itself - I can't put into words was it meant to be able to be there. So many people don't know where their people are, or where they came from. My people - for at least 2 generations - were right there.

*Julia’s son (and Scoatney’s grandson) France Davis – who we chatted with at the reunion - writes about Coopertown and his childhood in his book, France Davis: An American Story Told. His brother Clarence drew us a map to help us find the cemetery!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hopes and Goals for 2017!

 Friends and Family, Happy New Year!

2016 was a pretty great year for my family history research. Almost 10 months of it were part of my great Year Off, giving me spans of free time and mobility to go off and research that working full time doesn’t allow for. I definitely took advantage of it!  

I attended a national genealogy conference in Fort Lauderdale; I took 2 trips to Alabama, getting to both conduct archival research and meet a branch of my maternal grandmother’s family that we hadn’t even known existed in the process; I attended my maternal grandmother’s family reunion in Georgia and not only got to connect with family I haven’t seen in years but also got to visit the family cemetery on ancestral land, with burials from the mid-1800s!; I visited my paternal grandfather and started a family history conversation that’s already opened doors to fascinating stories; and much more!

All of that said, I know that 2017 will be a different kind of year, not least of all because I have a full-time job again and won’t be doing the kind of travel last year involved. However, I have quite the backlog of information and stories to share, plus a few other hopes and goals for both my research and this blog in 2017.

Here are just a few:

  1. Get my family involved in guest-blogging. One of my original goals for this blog was that it wouldn’t just be about research, but about memories, and that it wouldn’t just be a place for my voice, but also for members of my family. Be it sharing a photograph, a quick story, or something more, I need to work harder to get my extended family involved in sharing.

  1. Publish at least 26 posts this year. I know this is only 1 post every 2 weeks, but I’m being realistic about the mental demands of my new job this year. If I do better than this, I’ll count it as a win!

  1. Work on clearing out my backlog of already-researched posts. There are quite a few stories that are pretty much written in my head, with the documents to support them in my possession, but that haven’t made it onto “paper” just yet. Like actual details about the Cooper Family Cemetery in GA (DONE!), or the mysteries I’m slowly unraveling on both my maternal and paternal lines, or even just an update on my quest to solidly research my 1870 ancestors (as a pre-cursor to Civil War and slavery research). I’m going to knock these out!

  1. Continue to work on making this blog readable, useful, and enjoyable. I want the stories to be engaging, the explanations of my research process to be easy-to-follow, and for my family to have no trouble finding information about specific people, places or topics.

I’m really looking forward to 2017, and to continuing to research and share stories of my family. I hope you’ll stick around and add your comments, questions, and helpful advice as I search, struggle along, and hopefully knock down a few brick walls!

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Fish Are Biting!

In genealogy circles, family history blogs are sometimes known as "cousin bait." It's a term I'm not necessarily in love with, because I think of my blog first and foremost as a way to *share* information, not solicit it, but even I have to admit, there's truth in the idea! Heck, I want people to reach out to me when they have information or stories I'm missing! I want this blog to allow me to connect with folks, whether they're family or they just love genealogy and history.

Well guess what? That's exactly what's happened recently!

About two weeks ago, I received a message connecting me with a young man - a high school student - who is descended from another branch of my Whaley line! With the help of one of his teachers, he's recently begun researching his family history, and lo-and-behold, they came across my "Time Traveling Along the Whaley Family Tree" post! If their research - and mine - is correct, his 3x Great-Grandfather is my 2x Great-Grandfather. That man, Kit Whaley, married (at least) twice, and we are each descended from his relationship with a different spouse.

I won't be sharing this young man's information online, for obvious reasons, but I have invited him to write a personal message to be shared here on the blog so he can say hello to my branch of the Whaleys. We'll see what happens from there!

Then, on the other side of my family, I actually received a message right here on the blog from a National Park Service employee, in regard to my Grandfather's time in the Civilian Conservation Corps. The camp at which he served  in the early 1940s was later turned into an NPS site and they are currently researching the history of the two all-black camps that were located there. While I don't have much information on my Granddad's service, I certainly hope I can be of help to them - the stories of the CCC camp workers deserve to be researched and told! And if I'm lucky, they'll have lots of info that I don't, info that will provide context to help us better understand my Grandfather's experiences there. How exciting would that be?!

So, score one for my blog as "bait," lol!

P.S. Yes, it's been mighty quiet around here. I've recently started a new job, so a lot of my brainpower is being used up learning a new body of knowledge for work. But I haven't abandoned my research, and I'll be posting as I can.