Monday, November 16, 2015

Mystery Monday: Are You My (Great-Great Grand) Mother?

Do you remember that children’s book, Are You My Mother? A little birdie hatches from his shell while his mother is away and he goes on a quest to find her, asking each animal (and machine!) he passes if they are his mama. It’s cute, and, of course, it has a happy ending. Well, as I think about my quest to get each of my family lines back to 1870, and as I thought about a good Mystery Monday topic, this book popped into my mind; I’ve got a mystery for which I’m hoping there will be a happy ending. You see, we have this postcard…

When my maternal great-grandmother Katherine passed away in New York, her son, my grandfather, cleaned out her apartment. He brought back to DC at least two things: a small green tacklebox, which he gave to my mother (his oldest daughter) and a small suitcase, which he gave to his oldest son. In the tacklebox were a bunch of papers and a small stack of photos. Most of the items seem to be from or related to my great-grandmother’s life and possible relatives, the Kilsons, in Salem, NJ. But among them was the postcard above, with this written on the back:

We know that according to multiple records Katherine’s mother was named Rose Anne (or Rose Anna or Roseanne or Rosa Anne) Allen.

We’re thinking that “Eleanor” is Eleanor Kilson, one of 4 children born to Bertha (née Allen) and Waymon Kilson in New Jersey. (By the time Katherine passed in 1971, Eleanor had already been gone for 3 years, which may explain why Katherine had some of her things, especially since photos suggest Katherine and Eleanor were close.)

However, it’s possible that the Eleanor referred to here is Eleanor Petite (née Allen), another possible relative, and the one into whose home Katherine moved in Washington, DC around 1918. The question of the connection between these three women – Bertha (Allen) Kilson, Eleanor (Allen) Petite, and Rose Anne (Allen) Kilson – was the subject of a previous Mystery Monday.

In any case, today’s Mystery Monday question is, “Is the picture on this postcard actually our Rose? Is this my Great-Great Grandma?”

To have an image of a family member who was born in the early 1880s – to know for a fact that this was a woman from whom I was descended - would blow my mind.

I think I’m going to have to channel Maureen Taylor, ThePhoto Detective, to see if – at the very least – the clothing and hairstyle are from about the right time period to be Rose, and if the paper and info about the photographer or printer put us in the right period as well.

In the meantime, what do you think? Is there anything else we should look at about this postcard to make an educated guess about the timeframe in which it was taken? Do you have clues about these women and how they might be related?

Share your thoughts below!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Where There's A Will...

Yesterday I came across what, for me, is a really exciting document: My great-great-grandmother Scoatney (Scott) Cooper's will!

Now, the Cooper Family - my mom's maternal grandfather's line - has actually done a great job of keeping family names and relationships alive - they hold a reunion every 2 years, they've been maintaining a family tree probably since before I was born, and there are several family members with an interest in genealogy. (My cousin France Davis - the son of my great-grandfather's sister - even wrote a book that recounts some of the family history, though it's mostly his own autobiography.) In fact, for these very reasons, I've pretty much left this line alone as I do my own research.

But you know us genealogists, sometimes we just type something in the computer to see what comes up! Yesterday, it was both Scoatney Scott Cooper's Certificate of Death and her Last Will and Testament. Now, the first document alone would have been wonderful by itself - it let me know that she passed in 1932, at the age of 71...meaning she was born in 1861! As in, during the Civil War! And it gave me her parents names, which confirmed that a possible 1870 Census record I found for her, is in fact her! (Score 1 for my 1870 ancestor goal!)

To have a copy of her Last Will and Testament, however, is icing on the cake. Like, really amazing icing. Here's why:

1. This is a will written by a BLACK WOMAN in 1924 in the Deep South. We're talking about a person who was born during slavery, and who had lived most of her adult life during a time when African Americans were being lynched with alacrity, their political rights were routinely ignored, and their economic well-being was constantly in jeopardy. And we're talking about a woman living in a country where (white) women had only just won the right to vote a few years earlier. Women's rights were moving forward, but let's be clear that those rights were generally only accessible and afforded to *certain* women.

2. Scoatney had her own property to pass on!

Now, the family already knew she owned property; I knew it, too. As cousin France wrote:

Our house, the house in which I was born, sat on a piece of property originally owned by the Coopers – not purchased by my grandfather, July Cooper, but by his wife, Scoatney, my mother’s mother…. My grandmother was a good manager – so frugal, it would seem, that some called her stingy. It was she, however, who was able to purchase 180 acres of agricultural land in Cooper’s Town as well as a house and lot in Gough…
 But how cool is it to see that in writing in an original legal document? (The house and lot in Gough are mentioned later in the will.) And, it wasn't a small bit of land. The 140 acres mentioned in the image above - that's equivalent to about 140 football fields! Plus, she owned this land outright, at a time when most African Americans on farmland in the south were sharecroppers or tenant farmers, working in a constant cycle of debt accumulation. On top of this, black men and women who did own land were routinely (and often with governmental assistance) being cheated out of and off of it! (In fact, if you look up "black farmers" today, you'll see that contemporary black farmers are STILL trying to get their due.)

3. That said, this document is a testament to the importance of family and of creating and passing down wealth to leave a solid foundation for generations to come. It speaks to a mixture of hard work, planning, perseverance - and probably luck - from which Scoatney's family benefitted. And, if this is an accurate indicator...

...she did this without the benefit of literacy.

Some of this land is still in the family's hands today, and I'm excited that our next family reunion will take place down there! I can't wait to walk the ground, see the family cemetery, and, of course, make a visit to the county courthouse to see what other documents there are to find!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I'm Focused, Man!

I’ve got my genealogy groove back! I mentioned in a recent post that I had made a major life change, quitting my job to travel and focus on my genealogical research for 6 months to a year. Well, I spent 4 weeks traveling in Europe - to England, France and Italy (York Minster! Croissants! Mt. Vesuvius!) – and I just got back a few days ago from a week in New Orleans (Halloween! Voodoo Fest!).

Anyway, during the time I haven’t been on the road, it’s been difficult to get focused on genealogy. Frankly, I was probably exhausted and just trying to get used to being home again. I think I’ve also been feeling a bit overwhelmed, both by the research I already have but need to review, and also by the limitless possibilities (and thus the need to do something meaningful) for this year off.

But, for some reason, something clicked today. I feel energized again to dive in, and I know what my focus is: documenting all of my direct ancestors back to 1870. This is actually pretty funny to me, because this is a basic step in African American family history research, but not something I consciously think of - I've just been digging as much as a I can, working from one generation to the next. But 1870 is important, because it opens the door to learning about African American ancestors during slavery. The 1870 Census is the first census enumeration where the vast majority of African Americans were named as individuals, because it was the first census taken after the Civil War. Prior to this, most African Americans were enslaved – literally were property – and thus their names weren’t listed. (Of course, if your ancestor was a free person of color, there was a much better chance that they would be enumerated.) If you can find your family in 1870, you have a head start on finding out where your family was during slavery, and the door opens to the next phase of your genealogical research.

I’ve been so focused on pushing each line back as best I could that I wasn’t thinking about a common goal to organize all of my research. Getting each line back to 1870 is that common goal now. (My previous genealogy To Do list still applies, though, and will help me in this endeavor, I think.)

I have a ways to go, despite all the work I’ve already done. 1870 is 145 years ago, and the ancestors we’re speaking about would be my great-great and great-great-great-grandparents. I know who my grandparents are, thankfully! I know who 5 of my 8 great-grandparents are, and can document those pretty well, though I’d like stronger material for a few lines.  Of my 16 great-great-grandparents, I’ve got names for 10 of them, but documentation gets weaker the further back I go. And my great-great-great-grandparents are almost a complete mystery – of 32 people, I have 2 names, possibly 4.

Like I said, work to do! But I’m glad for that sense of direction. So, time to get started! Watch me go to work, y'all.