Saturday, December 2, 2017

Obits Open Doors: Searching for Alma Littlejohn

Work continues to keep me busy, but every moment I have a chance, I try to do a little more genealogical digging. Today, I got lucky!

In researching my paternal roots, I've come across an interesting, and somewhat elusive, character, my 2x great-grandfather Rufus Littlejohn. Born about 1866 in South Carolina, he lived a colorful life in Steubenville, Ohio - with the newspaper articles to prove it - before passing away in 1933. Or, at least that's when his wife's obituary says he passed away.

Flora Virginia Littlejohn's obituary, published in the 1 June 1964 Weirton Daily Times. This is one of the few times Rufus is referred to as John R. Litllejohn (colorful life, remember?).

You see, there's a death certificate from Beaver County, Pennsylvania for a Rufus Littlejohn in 1934, born about 1868 in South Carolina.

Now, that seems pretty obviously to be my Rufus. Same approximate birth year, same birth location, and Beaver County, where this one died, is only about 31 miles from Steubenville - both are in the Ohio River Valley. This death certificate doesn't list his parents, whose names I know from other documents, but the rest lines up. And the difference in the year of death is probably a matter of someone's faulty memory. But, I have to do my due diligence, right? So the first thing I do is a quick search of Rufus Littlejohns born in South Carolina about 1866. And yes, there's another one!

Screenshot of results for search of 1930 Census Records for Rufus Littlejohn, born about 1867 in South Carolina.

At this point, at least two things need to happen: 1) I need to create a document tracking both men - Rufuses? Rufusi? - across time so I can distinguish between them, and 2) I need to find out as much as I can about this Rufus in Pennsylvania, who I believe to be mine. I haven't done the former yet, but every now and then, I push forward with the latter.

Using city directories, census schedules, and birth, marriage and death records, I've been able to reconstruct the following, starting from a 1930 census showing Rufus Littlejohn living in Beaver Falls, PA with his daughter Alma Jackson (new to me!), her husband Michael (not that Michael) and their children:

  • This Beaver Falls Rufus had at least 3 children with a Jane "Jennie" Alexander between 1892 and 1897: Geneva (known as Eva), Alma and an unknown male. The male is born in Cleveland, where Rufus and Jennie are living in 1895/1896. It is unclear if Rufus and Jennie are married at any point.
  • In 1898, Jennie marries Joseph Washington, in Beaver County, PA.
  • [Meanwhile, in 1899, Rufus marries my 2x great-grandmother, Flora Virginia Wood(s), in Jefferson County, OH. Her obituary gets the year wrong.] 
  • Jennie and Joseph have at least 4 children together, giving Alma and Eva (and their unknown and perhaps deceased brother) half-siblings: Ethel, Madlin, George and Clark.
  • Over the next few years, Jennie's daughter Alma is involved with Harold (Harry) Ricksey/Rixie and then marries the aforementioned Michael Jackson. These relationships produce several children (Harry Ricksey/Rixie Jr, who tragically does not live to the age of 1, Leroy Ricksey/Rixie, a baby Jackson who is sadly stillborn, and then Carl, Dorothy, Raymond and Geneva Jackson.
  • Jennie's husband and Alma's step-father, Joseph Washington, passes away in 1930.
  • Jennie, Alma's mother, passes away in 1937.
  • Alma's husband passes away in 1951.

All of this left me with the question: What happened to Alma herself? And would that tell me anything else about her father Rufus? 

So today, with some time to spare before my Saturday plans, I did some Google genealogy. I literally searched for "Alma Littlejohn Beaver" but without the quotes (using quotes in a Google search will look for the entire phrase, but not the words separately). The third result? An obituary for Karl Jackson, the son of Michael and Alma Elizabeth Littlejohn Jackson. And in that obituary are listed the most recent names of four siblings who preceded him in death: Dorothy Jackson Zachery, Geneva Veasey, and Kenneth and Leroy Rixie! Without this obituary I would not have known Dorothy or Geneva's married names, and wouldn't have known that Kenneth existed at all!

So what did I do next? Still on the hunt for Alma, I Googled: Geneva Veasey "Beaver Falls". Success! Out of five results produced in response to that query, the first was her brother Karl's obituary (again), the second and third appear to be her obituary, but they are behind the paywalls of and (You bet I'm going to work to get it, though!) The fourth is a newspaper article mentioning her - it seems to be about a crime report, and I will be getting that, too.

And the fifth result? It's a link to a PDF document hosted on, also know as Old Fulton NY Postcards, by Tom Tryniski. (Have you ever searched this website before? You should! It's a gem of free resources, including many old newspapers available for free, and it's where I found the articles mentioning my step-great-grandfather's acting skills.)

What was the PDF? Page 16 of the Utica (New York) Daily Press for 27 November 1968. And on that page, an obituary for Mrs. Shelley Herron, also known as Alma E. Herron. 

Daily Press, Utica, N.Y. 27 November 1968, P16.

Not only did I learn her date and location of death, but also that she remarries in 1959 and to whom. Plus, there are seven daughters and five sons who survive her: Geneva Veasey, Louise Johnson, Lillie M. Cooper, Gloria Herron, Shelley Carter, Essie M. Jackson, Leroy Rixie, Kenneth Rixie, Karl Jackson, Herbert Herron and Adam Smith! While Alma's parents are not listed in this obituary, the avenues for research that are opened up between this and her son Karl's are exciting and sure to provide more interesting information!

This feels pretty good for a Saturday morning Google search.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tantalizing Tidbits for July Jr and Sr

As part of my ongoing research into my maternal Cooper family line, I did a Google search not long ago to see what I could find on African Americans in Washington and Hancock Counties in Georgia.

Guess what came up?

A book called African Americans of Washington County, Georgia: From Colonial Times Through Reconstruction.

Pulled from records at the Probate Office, the Genealogy Research Center at the Old Jail Library, the Georgia Archives, and more, it was compiled by Adam Adolphus, Sr, who was at the time researching his African American roots in the county. I came across it on the Lowcountry Africana website, which pulls together resources and research tips for people doing black genealogical research in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Not only can you read the book's Introduction on their website, you can access the Table of Contents as well as the Index. And I found the name July in the book multiple times, including twice as July Cooper. (Note to Self: Spend more time exploring this site!) You can't read the whole book online, though, so I needed to find another way to access it.

A search on WorldCat, which calls itself the World's Largest Library Catalog, told me that the nearest copy was at the New York Public Library. I don't live in New York. I will happily travel there when I need to, but did I have any other options?

Well, I'm lucky enough to have right in my own backyard the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which prides itself on having the "largest genealogical collection in the Mid-Atlantic region". (Full disclosure: I am a member of their Genealogical Advisory Group.) So I figured I should do a search and see if they had it.


So after work one day, I headed down during their extended evening hours and took a look through the book. What did I find that was of interest? Some tantalizing tidbits:

  • In a list of names pulled from Union Baptist Church Minutes, there's a July Cooper who is "received by experience" on September 25, 1858. His "Holder" was a man named Archalous Duggan. This is promising because my great-great-grandfather, July Cooper, Jr, was born in 1858, and in tax records listing Freedmen of Washington County, his and Sr's employer is listed as a man named A. Duggan or A.C. Duggan. The listing for the person below July in the Washington County book lists her Holder as A.C. Duggan. Is this July perhaps my Sr, joining a church the year his son was born? 
  • In the extract from the Probate Appraisements Book A for Washington County, there's a July who is owned by Robert Cumming (dated Sept. 3, 1857). This one's tantalizing for a few reasons. First, the family tree and oral history state that July Sr's brother Noah was taken in by a Cummings family, so a connection to this surname is interesting. Second, also listed in this appraisement is an enslaved man named Kinion. In the set of tax records I wrote about at the link above, just up the page from July Cooper Jr and Senior in the book for 1872-77, you see a man named... Kinion Cumming. Georgia, Property Tax Digests, 1793-1892 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.(Washington County, Militia District 96.) Original data: Georgia Tax Digests [1890]. 140 volumes. Morrow, Georgia: Georgia Archives.

 What are the chances Kinion would be enslaved with a July and then end up near a different July in the same county? And third, the Cooper/Cummings family tree states that July Sr's spouse was a woman named Harriet. Guess who else is enslaved in the household of Robert Cumming? A woman named Harriet and her child. In fact, July, Harriet, and Harriet's child (only named as such) are listed one after another in the extract. It is possible they are a family group.

  • In the same Appraisements Book, there is a child named July who is owned by Matthew C. Williamson. It is January of 1863 and he is 5 years old, making his birth year 1858. This is the same birth year as my July Jr.

  • In the 1867 Reconstruction Returns for African American Voters, there is a July Cooper. A scan of the original record (listing both "colored" and white voters) is available on This one's tantalizing because you can see that about 8 lines down from July, there's that A.C. Duggan, who is my July's (or at least a July I strongly expect is mine) employer across several years of tax lists. Georgia, Returns of Qualified Voters and Reconstruction Oath Books, 1867-1869 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.(Washington County, Election District 20, Precinct 8.)

  • There's a July who is owned by a John Duggan when Duggan's estate is appraised in 1854. Given the A.C. Duggan connection in 1867 and the 1870s, this is of interest. In fact, if you look back at the 1867 Qualified  Voters and Reconstruction Oath Book, you'll see that just 2 rows above A.C. is a J.C. Duggan. Is this John?

  • Finally, there's a listing in the extract of the M.C. Smith Funeral Home Records for a Charlie Cooper, who was born 28 January 1883 and died 19 February 1935. His parents are listed as July Cooper and Amanda Duggan. Other records show that July and Amanda married in Washington County in 1892. Right now, this isn't enough to connect to my Julys, but stay tuned for another post that explores this further.

The rest of the July mentions are much harder to discern any relationships from, but they're still interesting and worth noting. For example,

  • There's a July who in 1862 is owned by John G. Bryant and is hired out for $60, according to the extract of the Probate Office Record of Returns F.

  • There's a July listed in the Probate Division of Estates Book A. He was owned by Ezekial Finney and was valued as part of a lot of 3 men worth $1750 when Jacqueline Finney purchased or inherited him in December of 1851. (Jef and Dan were the other 2 men.)

The more information I find, the more questions I have, but overall, I do feel like there's a blurry picture that is slowly (s-l-o-w-l-y) coming into focus. With more time, more digging, and more focused analysis, maybe I'll have a few new stories to share in time for next year's family reunion.

Before I sign off, though, here's one more thing I came across in the book, which broke my heart a little bit (as though there wasn't enough in the rest of these extracts related to enslaved men, women and children to break my heart). This takes us back to the first record I mentioned, for Union Baptist Church. Read the listing for Cherry:

In August, the church wondered where she was. In September, they learned she was gone, "carried off to Florida". This just makes my heart hurt. My great-great-grandfather was July Jr. His wife was Scoatney Scott. Her mother's name was either Cherry, Chansy or Chaney. I can't say that this is her, but whoever this Cherry is, she had a community, and they noticed when she disappeared.

These people were real people.

Slavery research is going to be hard.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tax Time for the Julys!

Header (First Columns) Georgia Property Tax Digest Book (1878-82). Accessed on
I'm not ashamed to say that the idea of looking at tax records makes me want to lay down. Maybe I'm afraid of numbers. Maybe I'm lazy. I dunno. I just know that even though I've known full well for several months that the name of my maternal great-great-grandfather July Cooper, Jr - and perhaps even his father, July Sr - shows up in tax lists on, I could not bring myself to start looking at them.

Until one day I did.

Huh. It turns out tax records can be pretty interesting.

Header (Remaining Columns) Georgia Property Tax Digest Book (1878-82). Accessed on

 I spent a few hours going page by page through a record set on Ancestry called Georgia, Property Tax Digests, 1793-1892. This collection pulls together a century of tax records from 137 Georgia counties, and includes both white and African American males who were 21 and over. (It also includes women who owned property!) Interestingly, as Ancestry notes, "Details on white taxpayers were recorded on a two-page form," while "Freemen were logged separately on a different, one-page form". The records are organized by militia district. (Note: when you are looking at a new record set, be sure to read their description of it, so that you understand what you're looking at and how it's organized. Trust me, it helps!) 

 I went into this record set with these touchpoints for my July Coopers:
  • They were father and son, but only based on the Cooper/Cummings Family Tree. (I have found no primary sources that directly state a familial connection.)
  • July Jr was born about 1858 in Washington County, GA.
  • July Jr was living in neighboring Hancock County, GA, by 1870 and remained at least until 1880.

Doing a search for July Cooper turned up 29 records, all from the years 1870-1890. All but one were in either Washington or Hancock County. The outlier was for a July Cooper living in McIntosh County, which is 7 counties away from Washington County, as the crow flies. I've come across this July Cooper before and there seems to be no evidence connecting this one to mine.

As for the remaining Julys, in Washington and Hancock Counties, it seems very clear that there are only two and that they are Junior and a Senior. Sometimes this is stated directly in the books, as below.

Snippet, Georgia Property Tax Digest, 96th Militia District ("Giles"), Washington County, 1872-77.

Sometimes, one of them was listed as either "Jr" or "Sr," but the other had no suffix. Given there are only ever two of them at a time, I went ahead and assigned the missing suffix to the other, after a quick check of other evidence. And at other times, I had to make inferences with no suffixes, based on who was listed where, when, with what amount of land or assets, and in relation to what other people. This was a little more difficult. Basically, I had to make a chart:

(I used Excel for this, for the ease of sorting columns to look at the information in different ways. In fact, after I took this screenshot, I added more columns after I found a new way I wanted to arrange the info.) In the "Suffix" column, if the "Jr" or "Sr" is in parentheses, that means I inferred that from the other evidence.

So, what did I learn, or gain more evidence of?

  • There were definitely both a July Sr and a July Jr. And they are always found in close proximity to one another.

  • Both men were freed slaves. It was a reasonable guess anyway, given their presence in the Cotton Belt in the antebellum (Pre-Civil War) era, but their denotation on these lists as "Freedmen" adds support to that hypothesis. (According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, "Free blacks made up a mere 0.3 percent of the state's black population in 1860, and they were concentrated largely in urban areas, especially Savannah and Augusta.").

  • The names of some of their associates, both black and white. For example, A.C. Duggan, and George C. Walker are listed as employing one or both July's in 10 of 28 records. (I'll have to dig in and see what I can find about these men.) We also see the names of other freedmen working alongside them, such as Joe Archer, Aaron Chivers, Jesse Archer, and Ben Womble. And some familiar surnames appear on the same page as them, including Cummings and Scott. Jr's wife Scoatney was a Scott, and according to family lore, Sr's brother Noahwas taken in by a Cummings family.

  •  July Sr becomes a landowner. Sometime between 1878 and 1882, Sr acquires 184 acres of land in Washington County! This is reduced to 130 aces by 1883 and remains that size until at least 1890. The land is valued at from $368 to $650. How does he get it, and what happens to it? The record set has no listings for him after 1890.

  • And so does Jr! Between 1878 and 1882, he acquires first 10 and then 20 acres of land in Washington County. (Edit: But while July Sr is listed as being his own employer, Jr. is not. Twice, he is employed by members of the Garner family, and once, July Sr. is his employer.) By the mid-1880s, he's no longer listed as owning land here, but...

  • One of them moves to Hancock County by the mid-1880s. It's likely Jr. (My great-great-grandfather July Cooper, whose father was supposedly also July Cooper, was living in Hancock County by 1880.)

  • Sr. occasionally employed other freedmen.  This coincides with the time that he owned land. Here's an example, showing Harold Dixon as a freedman (second column) and July Cooper as his employer (first column). July owns 184 acres, valued at $552.
Snippet, Georgia Property Tax Digest, 96th Militia District ("Giles"), Washington County, 1878-82.

  • That their personal property included livestock, furniture and farm tools. Makes sense in this agricultural region.

But, What Don't I Know? What Questions Do I Have?
  • If my July, Jr is living in Hancock County in 1870 and 1880 (per Federal Censuses), how/why is he also living in Washington County in the 1870s?

  •  Are these two men definitely father and son? While today we use Jr and Sr to specify a father/son relationship, in the past, these suffixes could simply be used to indicate which of two men - of no relation to each other - was the older and which was the younger. (Expect a post one day where I discuss my efforts to actually connect my July to his father. Census recs and tax rec and vital recs, oh my!)

  •  And basically everything else! What were Jr and Sr doing with the land they owned? (There's an 1880 Agricultural Census that can shed some light.) How did they get it and when and how did it leave their hands? How does their land ownership  compare to other freedmen in Washington and Hancock Counties (this requires a bigger spreadsheet!)  When they were enslaved, were they owned by A.C. Duggan, who employed them both in the 1770s? Or another of the employers listed nearby? Why did Jr move to Hancock County?

Every piece of information I can find on July Coopers living in Hancock and Washington Counties is another piece of the puzzle, so I'm glad I finally took the time to dig into this record set of tax lists. Now I need to drill down further and discover what it all means!

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 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 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:

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: (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!