Four generations and counting


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The women in my family have been hard to research, and several times I’ve had to use indirect methods. This holds true for the recent discovery I made. I was trying to find out more about the Bryant side of my family, so I began researching the siblings of my direct ancestors. In fact, researching siblings is how I found my maternal grandmother Lula Bryant– was raised by an uncle, Will Bryant.

Anyway, I came across a death certificate for Mack Bryant, who was one of my great-great grandfather Crawford Bryant’s younger brothers. The document listed his mother’s maiden name: Talbot. All this time, I knew very little about Crawford Bryant’s parents, just that their names were Aaron and Sarah, and that they were born in the 1830s in Georgia. Discovering a maiden name for Sarah Bryant opened up a lot.

This death certificate of Mack Bryant, one of my great-great-grandfather’s younger brothers, shows the maiden name of my fourth-great grandmother, Sarah Talbot Bryant.

I began researching Talbots in Stewart County, Georgia, and came back with a slew of results, including a couple named Nathan and Cora. Nathan and Cora were strangely familiar names to me, and then I realized it was because Aaron and Sarah Bryant named two of their children Nathan and Cora.

I have a strong hunch that the Nathan and Cora Bryant I saw in the Census records were Sarah’s parents. At this point, I don’t have a document confirming that, but the family has tended to name their children after those that came before them– and still do.



Ireland and Scotland: The elements of a DNA surprise


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I got my AncestryDNA results back this week, expecting they would validate what I’ve known: I’m overwhelmingly, undeniably, irrefutably black with some Native American. And that’s pretty much what it showed.

But then I saw another result, and I was literally taken aback:


It was just 1 percent, but enough to show up, and something I was not expecting at all. I had– naively and now I’m finding out,  incorrectly– assumed that I didn’t have any white forbears.


I was chatting with a friend about it who wasn’t surprised at all.

“Makes sense to me,” she said. “Alabama has a lot of Scotch-Irish.”

So I looked into it. She was right. Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee– the states where my family is from– have high populations and percentages of people with Scotch-Irish ancestry.

I really don’t know how to begin researching this. But in an effort to shed light into this discovery, I took an inventory of all the surnames in my family tree I’ve been able to find, and looked up the origins:

Nance– English
Whitehurst– English
Gilley– Scottish
Brown– English, Scottish and Irish
Tindall– English
Barnes– English and Irish
Cotton– English
Burton– English
Pinkard– (I’m not really sure… one search said German, another said French, another said English, and yet another said Scottish…)
Bryant– English
Dobbins– English
Hamilton: Scottish and Irish
Clayton– English

Going by surnames alone, things seem to add up. But there are a lot of theories and what-ifs to consider. There might not be a document I can connect this to. I also don’t have pictures of anyone in my family who was born before 1865. (On my mom’s side, I only have a few pictures of my grandparents, but no one earlier than that).

It’s all very interesting, but I’m really not quite sure what to do with it.

The life and times of Rachael Bryant


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I’ve been trying to find out more about the life and times of my great-grandmother Rachael Bryant (1894-1937). In the past year, I’ve learned more about her than I ever thought I would, and each discovery makes me want to learn more.

I found out that she married twice, and ultimately ended up living in Lumpkin, Ga. Now, I’m realizing that she may have spent time in Colquitt, Ga., after her first marriage to a man named Simon Henley. In the 1920 Census, a Rachael Henley is a boarder in the home of Carrie Grimsley, a 26-year-old widow. Also in the household are two children, 2-year-old Henry Henley, and 4-year-old Susie May Henley.

It’s not clear whether these are Rachael’s biological children or relatives from her ex-husband’s family.

I wondered how and why she may have ended up further south. I glanced at the neighbors in the Census to see if there were relatives. No relatives, per se, but perhaps a connection. Charlie Lee Humber and his family lived a few doors down from where Rachael was living.  His occupation: a clerk for the city of Colquitt. A man named Lucius Humber once employed Rachael’s grandfather, Alfred Dobbins (my third-great-grandfather). And by “employed,” I mean Alfred Dobbins was a sharecropper.

These connections between sharecroppers and the people and families whose land they worked often extended through generations. Rachael’s occupation is listed as a laundress, so maybe she was working in the Humber home? I don’t know.

It’s an interesting twist in an already mysterious life. I’m not sure how long Rachael Bryant remained in Colquitt. I do know that her daughter– my maternal grandmother, Lula Bryant, was born in 1925. I always assumed she was born in Stewart County, Ga., but this revelation about her mother made me wonder. So I asked my mom:

“No, my mom wasn’t born in Stewart County,” she said. “She was born somewhere around Dawson.”

Dawson, Ga., is about 50 miles northeast of Colquitt, and roughly 34 miles southeast of Stewart County. My grandma Lula didn’t grow up with her mother. Instead, she  was raised by an uncle, Will, who was one of Rachael’s brothers, and his wife Marie.

By 1930, Rachael Henley was now Rachael Jackson, married again and living in Lumpkin, Ga. She died in November 1937 of a stroke.

I’d like to know what kept her on the move between 1920 and 1930. Who were Henry and Susie May, and what became of them? How did she end up in Colquitt, and what made her leave? So many questions…

Freeze Frame Friday: Class of ’49


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Syvalouis Nance Sr., one of my paternal grandfather’s younger brothers, graduated in 1949 from Tuskegee Institute with a degree in agriculture. ( Picture; far left, second row). A World War II veteran, he went on to teach for several years in the Colbert County, Ala., school system. 

From Birmingham to Bronzeville


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A few years ago, I discovered that Frances Pinkard Johnson (c.1874-1924), one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters, was among the first of my ancestors to leave the South for a better opportunity. I did some more digging and began to piece together more details of her story. Her path to Chicago wasn’t a direct one– in fact, she made a stop in Birmingham.

Frances Pinkard, the daughter of Ike and Narcis Pinkard, married her husband, Ben Johnson, at age 15. By age 23, she was a mother. The year was 1900 and Frances, her husband and their six-year-old daughter Corine were living in Chattahoochee County, Georgia. From there, the family moved to Birmingham, Ala., and in 1910,  Ben was working as a railroad laborer and Frances was a laundress. The family lived in Birmingham’s Ensley neighborhood– this is important to note because of Ensley’s background. (Interestingly enough, I used to live in Birmingham, and I know exactly where this is).



This is an example of worker housing provided large steel companies in Birmingham, Ala. Frances Pinkard Johnson, one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters, likely lived in a house similar to this when she, her railroad worker husband, and their daughter lived in Birmingham in the early part of the 20th century.

Now a part of the city of Birmimgham, Ensley was one of the Birmingham-area towns owned by the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company,  a major steel producer.  The company built communities of homes for its employees, and while I don’t know if the Johnsons lived in one of these homes, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Ben Johnson also likely worked on the Birmingham Southern railroad, which was owned by Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad. (According to the railroad’s Wikipedia page, it underwent an expansion in 1910, the year the Johnsons appear in the Census).





This is the 1910 U.S. Census showing Frances Pinkard Johnson, one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters, living in Birmingham, Ala. with her husband and daughter.

By 1920, the Johnsons, like many other black families from the South, are living in Chicago. They’ve made it to Bronzeville, a section on the city’s South Side often called the Black Metropolis. (This piece does a good job of explaining its vibrancy). Their bronzevillehome on 36th Street is a far cry from Birmingham, and a world away from their rural Georgia beginnings.

The Johnsons were part of the Great Migration, the shift of millions of black Americans out of the Deep South to points north, east and west that happened between 1916 and 1970. A scan of their neighbors in Chicago shows they were surrounded by others who had made similar trips from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. They’ve found work as laborers in stock yards and foundries, and as porters and cooks, too.




This U.S. Census from 1920 shows the Johnson family living in Chicago. They, like the majority of their neighbors, had come to Chicago from the South, seeking better opportunities.

Frances Pinkard Johnson died in 1924. I’m not sure what became of Ben, but Corrine remained in Chicago and after completing a year of high school, she eventually found work as a laundress. She married Samuel Greene, a stock yard laborer from Mississippi, and they had two children, Samuel Jr. and Birdie.

Finding Annie Nance


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This is a photo of my great-great-grandmother Annie Cotton Nance

One of the most difficult ancestors for me to research has been my great-great-grandmother Annie Cotton Nance. What I knew about her, I learned from oral history and also from conversations with my cousin Jessie Britt Frazier (1921-2012). Annie Cotton Nance was Jessie’s grandmother, and she lived with Jessie and her mother, Sallie Mary Nance Britt, for a number of years after she and my great-great-grandfather Henry Nance separated.

“Where was she from?” I remember asking “Around here,” Jessie told me, “here” meaning Coffee County.

“When did she die?” I asked. “My ninth grade year,” Jessie said. (I did a little math and that came out to be around 1938 or so).

So for years that was what I knew about my great-great-grandmother, and that she was a teenager when she married a man nearly 30 years her senior and went on to have 14 children. That all changed this weekend, when I met up with a familiar friend– and occasional muse– insomnia.

I found an 1880 U.S. Census showing an Ann Cotton, age 15, living in Dale County, Ala. in the household of Lige* and Ellen Baxter. (Though she’s listed as a sister to the head of household, Lige, I think she might have been the sister-in-law). This matches the information I already had about my great-great-grandmother, who was born in January 1865, and would’ve been 15 in 1880.


This image from the 1880 U.S. Census, taken in Rocky Head, Ala., shows an 18-year-old Ann Cotton living in the home of Lige and Ellen Baxter. I believe this is my great-great-grandmother, Annie Cotton Nance.

Rocky Head, Ala., was a community in Dale County, which is adjacent to Coffee County. When Henry and Annie married, they made their home in the Haw Ridge community, which straddled Coffee and Dale counties. This is another reason I think the Ann Cotton in this Census is my great-great-grandmother.

NOTE: I did some other started to search more to find out about the Baxters and interestingly enough, I realized that one of Elijah and Ellen’s daughters, Claudie, married one of my Tindall relatives and lived on property that later became Fort Rucker.

*Lige is short for Elijah

Finding a Pearl


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Some of the most difficulty I’ve had in this genealogical journey is finding out what happened to my great-grandfather J.E. Nance’s sisters, Pearl Nance Hill (b. 1899), Pearlee Nance Stewart (b. 1903) and Dovie Nance Ardis (b. 1902).

I don’t know any of their descendants and growing up, I never heard anyone mention them. All I’ve ever known about them was their names, dates of birth , names of spouses and names of children.

And then came along with its bomb search function. I recently discovered that Pearl Nance Hill didn’t stay married to her husband very long. In 1920 she and her husband, Dee, were living with their infant son in Haw Ridge, Ala., right next door to her parents, Henry and Annie Nance. But 10 years later, Pearl and her son Horace turned up in a 1930 Census living in the Blackmon househould in Enterprise, Ala. Interestingly enough, she’s listed as being a cousin to the head of the household, J. Cleveland Blackmon. (There’s no mention of husband, Dee).


Cousin?! Wait, what?! I quickly did a mental inventory of the vast and extensive of surnames related to mine on my paternal side: Nance, Whitehurst, Brooks, Brown, Tindall, Flowers, Barnes, Cotton, Gilley, Clark… Blackmon? That’s a new one.

On a related note, this seems to validate my long-held theory that I’m related to every black person in Enterprise, Ala., but I digress…

Also, Pearl listed herself as single. Not widowed, but single. That made me wonder what happened to her husband, Dee. It also made me wonder more about the head of this household, J. Cleveland Blackmon.

Where do we go from here

I have spent the past three months running headlong into brick walls. Figuratively speaking, of course. I’m taking about genealogical brick walls, the moments when you’ve reached the end of the paper trails your ancestors left.

The whole thing is so perplexing, but fascinating.

Take Narcis Pinkard Hamilton, for example. She is one of my great-great grandmothers. Born in Georgia in 1864, she was married at 15 and spent most of her life working as a domestic. She died in Columbus, Ga. in 1934, and her death certificate helped uncover some details about her immediate family. I know she had a younger brother named John, and her father’s name was Henry, but that’s all I know. I don’t know where in Georgia she lived before she married my great-great-grandfather Ike Pinkard, nor do I know her mother’s name.

One of my great-great-grandmothers, Annie Cotton Nance, is another woman whose life is largely mysterious. She doesn’t appear in any U.S. Census until 1900, when she was a 35-year-old married mother of 10 children. I can’t even find a Cotton family in the area that would correspond with the information that’s been passed down. I know that after my great-great-grandfather Henry Nance died, she lived with one of her sons, Oliver, and also with one of her daughters, Sallie Mary. She died sometime around 1938, though I haven’t been able to find a record.

I think this means I have to refocus my research. Instead of focusing on how far back I can go, I should start digging deeper into what I’ve already found.

Hidden in plain sight: A grave situation


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I was in Alabama last week for the Nance Family Reunion, and as always, I came back having learned something new. This time, I discovered the final resting place of one of my relatives, Obie D. Ardis, one of my paternal grandfather’s first cousins.

Whenever we go to Alabama, we place flowers on the graves of my grandparents, who are buried at Johns Chapel AME Church in Enterprise, and also my aunt and uncle, both buried at Fort Mitchell. We had just finished praying, and I was admiring the orange and green floral arrangement we had placed at my uncle’s headstone, when I looked up and noticed the name on a headstone a couple of rows back: Obie D. Ardis.

This is the grave of Obie D. Ardis, one of my paternal grandfather’s first cousins. His mother, Dovie Nance Ardis, was one of the younger sisters of my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance.



I immediately recognized the name as one the sons of Dovie Nance Ardis. She was one of my great-grandfather’s sisters, and someone who had remained somewhat of a mystery during my research. I looked closely and saw that Obie died in November 1999, about a month after my uncle. That meant his headstone had been there this whole time–all we had to do was look up.




A man and his farm


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In addition to Census records, there are also documents called non-population schedules. They often contain a great deal of information helpful to genealogists. Case in point: my great-great-grandfather Frank Gilley (ne Tindall) had a sizable farm in Coffee County, Ala., and I found an agricultural schedule that detailed what he was tending in 1880.


This agricultural schedule from 1880 shows what was on my great-great-grandfather’s farm in Coffee County, Ala.

His 150-acre farm was mostly corn and cotton, but he also had some sugarcane (which yielded 20 gallons of molasses the previous year) and five hogs. I also noticed that my great-great-grandfather owned his farm, an important distinction to make given the social and political climate. The other thing I took note of was Frank Gilley’s neighbors. One name stood out to me in particular: Sam Matthews. I know my great-grandmother– Mamie Gilley Nance — was married to a Shelby Matthews before she married my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance. So maybe Sam is Shelby’s dad and that’s how they met?