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Amelia Palmer Spight and Louis Spight

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, Genealogy and History, and Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

In my last post, I alluded to some interesting information I uncovered about Fonzo, Lonzo, and King Palmer’s mother, Amelia. As it turns out there is a good deal of completely understandable confusion about her.

Following the Civil War, formerly enslaved people were documented in the Census for the first time. Amelia can be found in the 1870 Census.Fonzo Palmer and family 1870

Her age in this Census is about 37, meaning she was likely born about 1833. She is enumerated on the same sheet as several other Palmer families, including the family of Randolph Eubanks Palmer, who enslaved her.

She should have been about 27 or so in 1860. The 1960 Slave Schedule for Randolph Eubanks Palmer lists several women around the same age as Amelia would have been. Two of the women are 25. On the 1850 Slave Schedule, there is a 16-year-old girl enumerated among those enslaved by Randolph Eubanks Palmer. Unfortunately, Slave Schedules were only used to count enslaved people by age and gender, so I cannot be certain that Amelia is this person, but it seems logical that she might be.

I couldn’t find Amelia on the 1880 Census and feared perhaps she died before Census was taken. However, a clue in the story of King Palmer, her son, helped me find her. King Palmer married Ida Spight, and as I did some digging in Census records for her family, I discovered that Amelia apparently married Ida Spight’s father, Louis (or Lewis) Spight on 15 Apr 1877 in Tippah County, Mississippi (Mississippi Compiled Marriages, 1826-1900).

There is a great deal of confusion because Louis Spight’s wife (and Ida’s mother) was still alive in 1870 and is enumerated with her husband and children. Her name was Amanda. Confusion resulted in many of the family trees I found as most researchers believed Amanda and Amelia to be the same person. I believe Amanda and Amelia are different people as Amanda’s age in the 1870 Census was a good ten years younger than Amelia’s. Granted, that is still within the margin of error, particularly for formerly enslaved people. However, the marriage record coupled with many instances in which the Palmer and Spight families are entwined leads me to believe that Louis Spight was married twice and that his first wife died some time between 1870 and 1878 when he married Amelia.

Amelia Palmer Spight died on 21 Aug 1914 according to her grave marker. In 1920, Louis Spight is listed as a boarder in the home of Jane Pate. His daughter Ella is also listed as a boarder. Louis Spight died on 1 May 1926. He is buried next to his wife Amelia.

King Palmer and Ida Spight married on 1 Nov 1883 (Mississippi Compiled Marriages, 1826-1900). In the 1880 Census, King Palmer was not living with his mother but is enumerated on the same page as his brother Fonzo.

Fonzo Palmer 1880 Census

What I think may have happened is that King Palmer and Ida Spight became close and decided to marry after their parents married each other. They are no relation to each other that I am aware of. Their children appear to have lived with Louis Spight and Amelia Palmer Spight in the 1900 and 1910 Censuses. I believe their three children, Thomas, Missie, and Phebe, lived with Louis and Amelia because King and Ida had died by 1900. I cannot find them in any Census after 1880, and because the 1890 Census is missing, I cannot discover much about them.

I could be mistaken about all of this. Amanda and Amelia might be the same person, as other researchers have guessed, and Louis Spight could bear no relation to Amelia Palmer at all aside from being her son King’s father-in-law. It could be that she died before 1880. However, after the digging I have done, I believe I am right about this hunch.

My favorite piece of information about Louis Spight is that he fought in the 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery (Union). I was so pleased to discover this information. According to Wikipedia, the 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

was a unit of the United States Army based in West Tennessee during the American Civil War. According to a 2003 article in the journal Army History, “More than 25,000 black artillerymen, recruited primarily from freed slaves in Confederate or border states, served in the Union Army during the Civil War… Federal military authorities armed and equipped the soldiers in these twelve-company heavy artillery regiments as infantrymen and ordinarily used them to man the larger caliber guns defending coastal and field fortifications located near cities and smaller population centers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.”

The magazine of the unit’s Battery A exploded at Fort Pickering on September 24, 1864, killing two and injuring four. A number of the black men killed in the Memphis riots of 1866 were soldiers of the 3rd Regiment.

Part of Louis Spight’s Military Record

I also found his record linked at the National Park Service with a limited amount of information. However, this website had a good deal of interesting information. According to Louis Spight’s record, he was promoted to the rank of First Sergeant by the end of his service. He was mustered out of service in Memphis in 1866, and it’s entirely possible that he witnessed the infamous Memphis Race Riot of 1866.

Though Louis Spight’s name is spelled “Lewis Spite” in these records, I believe the records refer to Louis Spight because his records say he was from Tippah County, Mississippi, and enlisted in Corinth, Mississippi, which is not very far from Tippah County. His age matches as well.

[District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln]
Photograph of Washington, 1862-1865, view of the defenses of Washington. Shows 27 African Americans in two lines with rifles resting on the ground. Library of Congress. Photograph by William Morris Smith
I was really excited to discover this information about Louis and Amelia Palmer Spight.

Palmer Family

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, and Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

I have some exciting updates to my research into the Palmer family of Tippah County, Mississippi. You can read about my first forays into researching the family in these two posts:

I decided to create a family tree on because I had trouble keeping track of what I was learning. Of course, the hints feature allowed me to sift through information more easily and untangle some confusing information.

Fonzo is also named Alfonzo, Alfonso, and Fon depending on the source. He is described as Black in most sources, but in the 1920 Census, he is described as “Mulatto.”

1920 Census Alfonzo Palmer

This is interesting given he and his mother had been enslaved by my ancestor, Randolph Eubanks Palmer, and if he did have White ancestry, it stands to reason we might be related. So far, I do not know enough to say. I will likely never know who Fonzo’s father was unless I discover a DNA match. He is living with his wife Betsey, daughter Onnie Palmer Evans, and grandchildren Ira (?), Andrew, and William J.

On the 1930 Census, Fonzo is living with his daughter Onnie Palmer Evans’s family, and their Census entry falls across two pages.

Fonzo Palmer Census 1930Fonzo Palmer 1930

Fonzo Palmer died on 18 Jul 1938 and is buried in Ripley Cemetery in Ripley, Tippah County, Mississippi. His gravestone lists his name as “Fon Palmer.”

It seems as though some of the Palmer family relocated to Peoria, Illinois during the Great Migration. His widow Betsey Leatherwood Palmer is listed in a Peoria, Illinois city directory in 1940. She died on 26 Jul 1940 and is buried in Ripley Cemetery, Ripley, Tippah County, Mississippi.

Over the course of several Censuses, I was able to compile the following list of children for Fonzo and Betsey Palmer:

  • Arther or Arthur Palmer, 1883-1918
  • Ollie Palmer, 1885-?
  • Fonzo Palmer, 1887-1968
  • Alonzo Charles Palmer, 1887-1951 (I believe Fonzo and Alonzo were twins, and I was touched they had the same names as Fonzo Palmer and his twin)
  • Henry Palmer, 1892-?
  • Onnie Palmer Evans, 1894-1962
  • Rosco Palmer, 1898-?

I’m still working on the children and their descendants, so I may have more definitive dates and information in future posts.

I’m incredibly excited by what I discovered about Fonzo Palmer’s mother, Amelia, and in the process, I think I’ve untangled some confusion in their family trees. I will share that information in my next post.

Fonzo Palmer Part Two

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, and Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

This post is the second in a chronicle of what I have been able to discover about Fonzo Palmer, who was enslaved by the Palmer family in Tippah County, Mississippi. To read the first, follow this link.

As many genealogists know (and lament), the 1890 Census was lost, so having traced Fonzo Palmer through 1880, the next step was the 1900 Census. As you will see, it’s a shame we cannot consult the 1890 Census because we would have learned a great deal about Fonzo’s family during that time.

Fonzo Palmer 1900 CensusBy 1900, we find him married and living with his family in Ripley, Tippah County, Mississippi. Some pertinent information summarized:

Palmer, Fonzo. Head of House. Black. Male. Born June 1860 [which tracks with the list from the previous post], Age 39, Married 17 years, born in Mississippi, both parents born in Mississippi, farmer, cannot read or write, but speaks English

Fonzo must have married in about 1882. His wife is named Betsy, which is extremely hard to read on this Census, but it is clearer on subsequent Census records. Her birth year is listed as 1866, but her age as 34 (again, hard to read). It says she has had nine children, seven of whom are still living.

That Census question always strikes me because something I notice all too frequently is that the numbers are not the same. When I think about how many women had to bury much loved children, it’s hard. I just have to admire women in history for all they have borne.

Betsy was listed as born in Mississippi as were her parents.

Fonzo and Betsy’s children are as follows:

  • Ollie, daughter, born April 1885
  • Arthur, son, born June 1883
  • Lonzo, son, born Feb 1887
  • Fonzo, son, born Feb 1887
  • King, son, born Feb 1893
  • Aney [Onnie], daughter, born Dec 1894
  • Rosco, son, born June 1898

The four older children are listed as farmhands, and it looks as if they had some schooling in that year and may have been literate. The four children are all listed as being able to write, and Arthur and Fonzo are listed as being able to read.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that Fonzo and Betsy named their twins after Fonzo and his own twin brother, which made me wonder again how long Fonzo’s twin Lonzo lived. Another son was also named after Fonzo’s brother King.

Next, I consulted the 1910 Census.

Fonzo Palmer 1910

In 1910, Fonzo is once again living in Ripley, Tippah County, Mississippi. He is 52 and Betsy is 44. Her age is correct, but his age should be 50. They have been married for 27 years. Once again, next to Betsy’s name, there is an indication that they have lost two children, but all the others living in 1900 are still living in 1910. Fonzo is listed as born in Mississippi and his parents in the United States, while Betsy is born in Mississippi, as were her parents.

The twins Lonzo and Fonzo are still living at home and are 23. Son King is 18. There seems to be an error as Onnie is listed as 15, which would be correct, but is listed as their son, and on all other Censuses, she is their daughter. Son Rosco is 12.

The subsequent Census records will take a bit more untangling, so I’ll share those findings next time.

Fonzo Palmer Part One

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, and Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

As I alluded to in my previous post, I’m hoping to learn more about the people wrongfully enslaved by my ancestors. Slavery makes it extremely difficult for many people to trace their family histories, as their ancestors’ names often appeared nowhere on documents. They might be enumerated on Slave Schedules, census records that counted the numbers of enslaved people, who were listed by age and gender under the names of the slave owners.

I chanced upon two remarkable documents connected with my ancestor Randolph Eubanks Palmer. He was a planter in Tippah County, Mississippi. This small article was featured in the Vicksburg Daily Whig on March 21, 1856.

Randolph Palmer Article

A quick transcription in case you find the article difficult to read:

BIG FARMING.—Mr. Randolph Palmer, living four miles from Ripley, in Tippah county, Miss., last season made 145 bales of cotton, 900 barrels of corn, and 68 stacks of oats, each stack containing 1000 bundles, and only worked nineteen hands. At a moderate estimate, his crop would bring him upwards of $11,000. Who says there is no profit in farming.

Memphis Whig.

A Slave Schedule for Tippah County in 1850 indicates that Randolph Eubanks Palmer claimed ownership of 21 human beings. In 1860, he claimed ownership of 28 human beings. According to a fellow researcher (unfortunately, I’m not sure who originally shared the information), a handwritten document with the ages of enslaved people born after 1851 through 1862 or 1863 was found in a trunk in the Palmer home. Here is an image of the document:

Palmer: Births of Enslaved People

A transcription (original spelling and capitalization retained):

Ages of Negros

Jane was born September-5-1851 (unreadable year scratched out)
Henry was born September-15-1851
Marthy was born January 13*-1855       [*possibly 18]
Joseph was born december-25-1855
Samira* was born January-9-1856        [*I can’t make out this name definitively]
Manday was born Octob 23 1856
Samuel was born december 22-1856
hall was born march-14-1858
toney was born April-4-1858
georg was born April-20-1858
Fonzo & Lonzo borned June the 27. 1860
dilcy was born may th 4—1861
King was borned Dec 18. 1862*             [*possible 1863]

This is the kind of document that is invaluable to Black Americans researching their family histories, but unfortunately, when White enslavers think to document such information, they rarely, if ever, think to share such information.

I wanted to find out if this document could possibly be genuine. On the list, two names jumped out at me: apparent twins Fonzo and Lonzo born on June 27, 1860. The names are distinctive enough, I thought, that I might be able to do some digging and actually find them. Their names also reminded me of Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt in James Baldwin’s book If Beale Street Could Talk.

I decided quite on a whim to start with Fonzo, and I found him and his mother and siblings on the 1870 Census for Tippah County, living near other Black families with the last name Palmer and also Randolph Eubanks Palmer, Jr., the son of Randolph Eubanks Palmer. I suspect Fonzo and his family were sharecropping on the land where they had formerly been enslaved, which was a common occurrence following emancipation and the end of the Civil War.

Fonzo Palmer and family 1870

Transcription of pertinent information:

Palmer, Amelia?, Age: 37, Gender: Female, Race: Black, Occupation: Keeping House, Birthplace: Missouri [could be a mistake], Cannot read or write.

Palmer, Mat or Mar, Age: 17, Gender: Female, Race: Black, Birthplace: Mississippi; Cannot read or write [note: there is a + sign in the column labeled “Whether deaf, dumb, blind, insane or idiotic”]

Palmer, Fonzo, Age: 10, Gender: Male, Race: Black, Birthplace: Mississippi

Palmer, Cain, Age: 7, Gender: Male, Race: Black, Birthplace: Mississippi

His mother’s name is difficult to read, and it was transcribed as Anicha, but my guess is that it was actually Amelia. She is 37 on the 1870 Census, meaning she was likely born around 1833. She would have been about 27 on the 1860 Slave Schedule, and there were two women who were 25 listed under Randolph Palmer’s name. There were many other candidates older and younger as well. Fonzo was not listed with Randolph Palmer on the 1860 Slave Schedule but a two-month-old male child is listed with Randolph’s son John D. Palmer. It’s hard to say if Fonzo was not enumerated or if he was enumerated with Randolph’s son John. In any case, there is not a woman close to the age of 27 enumerated among the people enslaved by John Palmer.

The other two children listed with Fonzo’s mother appear to be Mar or Mat and Cain. I believe that Cain is probably King, born on December 18, 1862 or 1863 above. If Cain is King, then the date above is probably December 18, 1862. Mar or Mat could be Marthy above, who was born January 13 or 18, 1855, but if so, then her age on the 1870 Census is incorrect, which wouldn’t be terribly unusual given the difficulty of keeping records for enslaved people. If Mar or Mat is Marthy, then she would have been 15, according to the Palmers’ reckoning (well within a margin of error).

I was not able to find Lonzo, and I suspect he may have died before the 1870 Census. I next traced Fonzo to the 1880 Census.

Fonzo Palmer 1880 Census

Transcription of pertinent information:

Palmer, Fonso, Race: Black, Gender: Male, Age: 19, Relationship to Head of House: Boarder, Marital status: Single, Occupation: Works on Farm, Did attend school within the census year, Birthplace: Mississippi, parents birthplaces unlisted.

Fonzo is a boarder in the household of Phebie Smith. King Palmer appears a few lines beneath Fonzo:

Palmer, King. Race: Black, Gender: Male, Age: 19, Marital status: Single, Occupation: Works on Farm, Birthplace: Mississippi, parents’ birthplaces listed as “Unknown.”

It’s possible that King Palmer either didn’t know his age or his age was given incorrectly. There is a round mark next to his name that looks like the census-taker was trying to swap lines, but it’s unclear to me if King Palmer was working for the White family Wesson or Wasson that appears above him or the White family Russell that appears below him. In any case, Fonzo and King’s mother may have died. I was not able to find her again on the Census. It’s also possible she married and had a different last name. I will keep digging to see what I can find.

I was extremely happy and surprised at how far I was able to trace Fonzo Palmer. I will share more of his story in my next post. I believe the list of names is a genuine document that lists the names of people born into slavery on the Palmers’ plantation (or farm) from 1851 to 1862 or 1863 and that two or possibly three children—including Fonzo—of an enslaved woman possibly named Amelia were among those whose births were listed.

Some Updates and Future Directions

Posted in Genealogy and History, and Updates

If you have visited this blog in the past, you might have noticed some major differences. I have changed the look of the site. I had to upgrade my family tree on this site after my host upgraded some technical things behind the scenes, which broke my family tree pages. I wasn’t able to upgrade successfully using the database I already had, so I imported a GEDCOM from my tree. However, that tree has a lot of errors that will take a long time to weed out, so please be patient with me here as I fix those issues on this website.

Second, I have some plans for future research directions that I hope to document here on this blog. Like many White people with ancestry in the South, I discovered that some of my ancestors engaged in the heinous institution of chattel slavery. I want to make it very clear that I am anti-racist, or am striving to be, and I do not condone or excuse my ancestors, nor do I give them allowance for engaging in a practice that was common at the time because there were plenty of White people who opposed slavery. I also acknowledge that it’s impossible to be “kind” or “good” and also think you have the right to own human beings. I recognized that my ancestors were flawed—they may have had aspects of their personalities and attitudes that were kind, but I also have no doubt in my mind that they engaged in cruelty to both those people they thought they owned and the Native inhabitants of the land they settled. I have decided to reckon honestly with my ancestors in all their complexity. To do otherwise, for me, is dishonest.

To that end, I am very interested in learning more about the people enslaved by my ancestors and plan to do what I can to uncover their stories on this blog as well. If I can learn more also about the Native people whose land my ancestors took, I hope to be able to share what I discover here as well. That does not mean I will stop learning more about my direct answers, but rather that I am seeking a fuller picture of who they were in all their complexity.


Posted in Site Issues/Technical

Hello all. Just a short update to say that two people have recently contact me to let me know they were unable to post comments here. I disabled a plugin that might be causing the trouble, and I was successfully able to post a comment from an alternative email address, so I believe the issue is resolved, but if you have trouble posting comments, can you please try again and let me know the results?

Family History News

Posted in Site Issues/Technical, and Updates

Papa and Me
My grandfather and me before my grandmother’s funeral

I don’t update this blog very much, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to work on family history, but I have some found time today, and I plan to do some updating on the family tree on this site. I continue to enjoy the fact that far-flung cousins find old posts on this site and interact. This blog probably has way more comments than any other site I administer, which speaks to the power of family bringing us all together.

I have been thinking for a while that I should share some updates. A lot has happened over the last six months. We all lost my grandmother Doris Thurman Cunningham last November. I was personally devastated by her loss as we were very close. I wrote her obituary and delivered her eulogy. Perhaps some time I will share the eulogy here. I have struggled with whether or not to make her family tree page public since she has passed, but ultimately, I don’t think I am ready yet. If you are a family member and create a login, however, it is accessible.

We lost my father’s brother, my Uncle David “Buck” Swier, Jr. last week. Here is his obituary. I am thinking a great deal of my Aunt Sandy and cousins Misty, Krista, and Nicole, as well as their children. I was not close to Buck and hadn’t seen him in many years, but he and my dad spoke via Skype, and my dad enjoyed these conversations.

I had to move web hosts since the last time I updated. I had a truly awful experience with my former host, Bluehost. They basically shut down my site because they alleged it was not optimized and was slowing other sites on the same server down. They offered to fix the issue for several hundred dollars. I was a customer of theirs for over ten years, and I don’t feel I was treated fairly. I moved to DreamHost, and I have been very happy with them. Much less down time for my sites, and no issues at all so far. In the process of migrating, I had to fix a few issues, but it’s entirely possible that some photographs didn’t link up properly, so if you find broken links or images, I apologize. It will likely be summer before I have the kind of time I would need to fix those issues.

As always, I invite family members to connect, and I love to read comments from people who find the research here useful. The family tree on this site is a slow work in progress, but if you find information you wish to contribute, please let me know.

Surprises from 23 and Me

Posted in Genetic Genealogy

My husband and I ordered kits from 23 and Me to compare with what we learned via the DNA kits from There are some things that the 23 and Me data share that data do not—fun things like the extent of your Neanderthal background, and interesting things like what seems to be a more precise breakdown of your ancestry composition.

European Composition

The picture above shows how my European DNA breaks down. It’s important to note that this is somewhat speculative. 23 and Me customers can change confidence levels to see a more conservative estimate. If I choose the most conservative setting, my results differ from those above quite a bit.

Here is my entire ancestry composition at 50% (Speculative):

Speculative Ancestry Composition

And here is my ancestry composition at 90% (Conservative):


I understand that some users find there is not much to see if they look at the conservative estimate, but mine seems pretty clear. I am very European, though what kind is harder to tell with a more conservative estimate. I assume that is because I’m an American, and I imagine I have a lot of European lineages in my tree. I am pretty certain about German, Irish, English, and French because of my genealogy research.

The big surprise in the speculative view is a tiny percentage of Ashkenazi heritage. I can’t imagine where it came from, and I wonder how 23 and Me determined it was a possibility. Obviously, it’s not certain because it vanishes with a more conservative view. However, so does French and German, Southern European, and Scandinavian, and I know about the French and German in my background. Going back several hundred years, there is potential evidence of an Italian ancestor, but the stories about him are so wild, it’s hard to know what to think. I had long speculated he was Jewish and hiding that part of his identity. I actually thought he might be Sephardic. As far as I know, however, there are no Ashkenazi Jews in my tree, so that tiny percentage is a bit of a mystery to me.

My test indicated a small amount of African DNA, but it wasn’t very specific, and in any case, it indicated North Africa, not Western Africa or Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethnicity Estimate

As you can see, even with the conservative ancestry composition estimate, my African DNA is higher than estimated it was. I don’t deny the results, but I wonder why they are different. It’s the same DNA that was tested. I am also curious how separates out Irish DNA when 23 and Me puts it together with English/British.

Both companies put my European heritage at about 98% or 99%, which does not surprise me. I’m curious as to how trace regions in the Middle East show up in the test and not in 23 and Me. I wondered if that might be the Ashkenazi background because Ashkenazi Jews moved into Europe from the Middle East some time during Holy Roman Empire. I honestly don’t know enough about any of this to make even an educated guess.

What does seem fairly certain is that I do have some African DNA, though whether it is North African, as thinks, or West African and Sub-Saharan African as 23 and Me thinks, I don’t know how to determine. I actually am excited to learn this information, and as you can probably imagine, it raises a lot of questions for me about my family tree and especially about brick walls.

One thing I was really excited to learn from 23 and Me was my maternal haplogroup, or mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) group.


Of course, this got me curious because this particular haplogroup is more common in Eastern Europe and also is believed to have emerged from the Caucasus. If you are interested in that kind of thing, it’s the same maternal haplogroup as Dr. Mehmet Oz (Henry Louis Gates discusses Dr. Oz’s haplogroup in his book, Faces of America).

Migration of Haplogroup H2

Haplogroup H is quite common in Europe, so given my large percentage of European heritage, it’s not a surprise. I would love to be able to learn more about mtDNA haplogroups. I’m not really sure what this information really tells me at the moment, but it was, for some reason, information I really wanted to have.

Because I am a woman, I have no paternal haplogroups to look at. I would be extremely curious to know that information, but the chances of getting my father to take a DNA test are probably in the negative numbers. My paternal grandfather passed away about fifteen years ago. It is possible male cousins descending from my father’s brothers would be interested enough to try, but I don’t feel close enough to that side of my family to ask something like that. It seems like a big request—excuse me, can I please have some of your DNA so I can find out about our fathers’ paternal haplogroup? For that matter, I’d be curious about my father’s maternal haplogroup, as I inherited mtDNA from my mother and not him, so it is probably different.

One last result that was really surprising:

Neanderthal DNA

My husband had a very good time with that result, which was much higher than his own. I don’t really know what this means, aside from the fact that 23 and Me says I inherited one Neanderthal variant that is associated with less back hair. So I have that going for me, which is good.

With my husband’s permission, I will share his results here, as I know a lot of Huffs stop by looking for information about their families as well. One last fairly surprising result I wasn’t expecting—23 and Me allows you to compare your DNA to connections, and as it turns out, my husband and I are absolutely unrelated. We have 0 DNA segments in common. I kind of expected we shared maybe some small connection far, far in the distant past. It wouldn’t be that weird, given our families both lived in the South for generations, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable that we shared an ancestor. We might, but not within the last couple of hundred years, anyway. I used to joke with him that it was my mission to figure out how he and I were related, but it looks like I probably won’t figure that out.

A Brick Wall Broken Down and Other Updates

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories, and Site Issues/Technical

For many years, I have had a brick wall on my father’s side of the family. My great-grandmother, born Gertrude Nettie Perkins, told her daughter in a letter written April 6, 1940:

I am English on my fathers [sic] side. His folks settled in Virginia shortly after the Revolutionary War and were English Quakers.

I had been unable to trace her father’s side of the family back any further than the small bit of information I had about his name. I had no idea who his parents were, and I couldn’t really find them on the census. I’ve been on spring break, so I’ve had a little bit of time to conduct family history research, and on a hunch, I did some digging into her father’s family once again. appears to have added quite a few databases I haven’t had the occasion to use, so it makes sense that this information was harder to find in the past. I don’t have the luxury of spending tons of money to order documents or hire researchers, never mind traveling all over the country to research in libraries.

I tried using’s search feature on my great-grandmother’s father, John E. Perkins. I had a match. After I did some digging around, I was certain I had the right person. His father declined to fight in the Civil War because he was a Quaker, and I found the family mentioned, finally, in Hector, Renville County, Minnesota, where I know my great-grandmother was born according to her own information. Unfortunately, the Perkins name had been misspelled “Perkis” on a census, but other evidence I found from books on the history of the area available online through Google Books confirmed it is Perkins and that I had at last broken down a brick wall.

John E. Perkins’s father was John B. Perkins, and he was born in North Carolina, rather than Virginia, but that was fairly close and fairly typical of the ways family stories often are partly true. Actually, when I do some more digging, I may indeed discover the family came to Virginia first. Tracing John B. Perkins back to North Carolina proved fairly easy because of the scrupulous records kept by the Quakers.

Marriage Bond of John B. Perkins and Deborah D. Outland Kennedy
Marriage Bond of John B. Perkins and Deborah D. Outland Kennedy (click for larger)

Sure enough, the lead from my great-grandmother that her family were Quakers proved to be a solid one, and it helped me determine I had the right family.

I am quite curious about John B. Perkins and his wife Deborah Outland. They had established a family in an old Quaker enclave in Wayne County, North Carolina. Based on the birthdates of their children, it’s possible to pinpoint their migration from North Carolina to Minnesota to 1852 or 1853. My ancestor, John E. Perkins is listed in census records as having been born in Minnesota in 1853, and his older brother William Samuel Perkins was born in Wayne County, North Carolina on 9 May 1852.

What made John B. Perkins and Deborah Outland pull up stakes and go to the Minnesota Territory? They clearly came from a close-knit community, and there would be no guarantee they would be able to continue to worship in the manner to which they were accustomed. What was the lure?

I discovered that John B. Perkins was something of a pioneer in the small town of Hector, Minnesota. He established a hotel there, and indeed, on the 1880 Census, he is listed as a hotel operator. The first school in Hector was taught in a room in the hotel above the kitchen, and the first church services were also held there. Reading about him in the various history books I could find online was absolutely like reading about characters from Little House on the Prairie.

Towards the end of his life, he headed west again to California, where he died in Brentwood in Contra Costa County. I am fairly certain he is the same John B. Perkins listed on several California Voter Registers I found because his name and birthplace match up. What made him decide to go clear across the country for a second time, this time, just about as far as he could go? I found him absolutely fascinating.

After I established the connection between John E. Perkins and his parents, using my great-grandmother’s clue to confirm what I had found, it was easy to fill in the rest going back fairly far. I have not yet input all of the information I’ve found to the family tree on this site, but look for it in the coming months.

On a related note, I have done quite a lot of updating to the family tree. Places are now geocoded so that you should see a map keyed up to events in the lives of individuals. I have also added sources to many of the facts—a time-consuming process that will take quite a long time to complete. However, it’s important to me to include verification for information. I have not added information I’m not sure about. There are a lot of errors in trees, especially when they go fairly far back. I want the tree on this site to reflect research, with accurate and reliable information.

I have done so many updates that it’s hard to list them all here, but in addition to adding sources, I have also added some portraits. Some of these portraits are from cousins on Ancestry. com, but Find a Grave has really exploded, and some users are quite generous in posting additional pictures they have of people on their Find a Grave memorials. A few years ago, it seemed I couldn’t find anyone, but now I can find most people in the last 200 years or so.

My husband and I have also both registered with and submitted DNA tests to 23 and Me. We had done’s DNA test as well, but we had also grown frustrated by some of the limitations of that kit. Given how large and comprehensive 23 and Me is, I expect I’ll be posting here about results.

One other addition to the blog: I’ve made it easy for you to subscribe to updates via email. If you are family and don’t want to check for my sporadic (to put it generously) updates, please feel free to subscribe. The subscription area is in the sidebar to the right.

New Family Tree

Posted in Archiving, Genealogy 101, and Site Issues/Technical

Family TreeAs I promised in my previous post, I will be sharing more about digital storytelling in a future post, but I wanted to share that I have found a family tree sitebuilder I’m excited about. My cousin Rick Zeutenhorst uses it on his site. I really liked the look of my cousin’s site, and based on his recommendation, I decided to get it for two reasons:

  • Having a site in the cloud will make it easier for me when I migrate. I know I can save gedcoms from software programs, and I have done so in the past, but I have also lost things in the transition, and I think this solution will work for me as well. I can back it up so that I always have a copy of my data, should losing data ever become a worry.
  • At this point, the only place I have my data is, and there may come a day I don’t want to use the site anymore (right now, I’m happy with it, and I obtain tons of information quite easily that I would have to spend a great deal more money to obtain). It’s probably not a good idea to put all my genealogical eggs in one basket, though.

In addition to these two reasons, I also like the idea of having control. I have set living individuals to “private,” but collaborating family members can register for an account.

I opted to start building from scratch rather than using a gedcom because over time, I know errors have crept into my Ancestry tree, and untangling the errors seems to me to be a more daunting task, if you can believe it, than starting over.  I also will be able  to standardize conventions for dates and place names if I start over. Starting over allows me to be careful and cite sources for information as I work. I am a much more careful and thorough genealogist than I was when I started. I will admit it—I fell prey to the lure of looking for famous ancestors in my tree and often attached unproven connections that appeared uncited in other trees.

I know starting over is a lot of work, but it will prevent me from introducing errors and will allow me to go slowly. As such, the tree is a little spare at the moment. Rest assured I will be adding people, and if you have information to contribute, feel free to contact me.

Some things I really like about the sitebuilding software, which is called TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, are the ways in which photographs are handled and the “Most Wanted” feature. I have really only just begun to explore the possibilities. The site is easy to manage after a small learning curve. The most difficulty I had with it was my original upload didn’t work, so I had to re-upload it to my site. I happen to feel comfortable with managing the back-end of my site, but others’ mileage may vary on that score.

You can view the family tree by clicking this link or by clicking the permanent link in the menu at the top of the page.

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