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?

What child is this?


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I was digging for downloadmore information about my great-great-grandfather Frank Gilley (ne Tindall), when I got an unexpected name in the search results: Isabelle Tindell.

Isabelle Tindell? Who is she?

According to her death certificate, she’s my great-great-grandfather’s older sister. She was born in 1839 to Seaborn and Hannah Tindall, and died Aug. 1, 1909 in Coffee County, Ala. But that’s it. She doesn’t appear in any other records that I’ve been able to find. Yet.

But this is interesting. Until this discovery, I thought that my great-great-grandfather Frank, was the oldest of Seaborn and Hannah Tindall’s children, having been born in 1847. I also know that Frank’s parents, Seaborn and Hannah, were both born in South Carolina. This is where their likely owners, James and Cassander Tindall, were from. If I could figure out more about Isabelle, namely where she was born, that would provide a clue as to when Seaborn and Hannah were taken to Alabama.

Freeze Frame Friday: J.E. Nance, businessman


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This is my great-grandfather J.E. Nance (1891-1979). The J.E. stands for James Evan. In this undated photo, he’s here with his younger sister Lovie, standing in front of a sign for Coppinville Grocery, the community store he owned in Enterprise, Ala. According to my cousin Benjel, Coppinville Grocery started out as storehouse, then Grandpa Evan began selling items on credit to the people who rented from him in the Coppinville community. After his son Henry Frank (aka Uncle Babe) returned from World War II, he helped Grandpa Evan run the store and showed him how to modernize it. Coppinville Grocery remained open through the 1960s.

Coppinville and Coppin State. . . is there a connection?


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The short answer to the question in the headline is yes. But first a bit of background:

Coppinville is the section of Enterprise, Alabama where my paternal ancestors and relatives have lived for more than a century. In fact, if you take a drive down Coppinville Road, you’ll notice it intersects with Nance Circle and further down is Gilley Street. Gilley is my great-grandmother’s maiden name.


Anyway, Coppinville is named for Levi Jenkins Coppin, (1848-1924) a former bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. But why this guy? Well, according to this history, the Coppinville area was among the first areas in Coffee County where black people settled. Many of them belonged to the AME church, and Coppin was bishop of the church during the time Coppinville was being developed. He married Fannie Jackson, a writer, educator and missionary after whom the historically black Coppin State University is named.


Fannie Jackson Coppin (1837-1913) is the educator, writer and missionary after whom Coppin State University is named. Her husband, Levi Jenkins Coppin, is the namesake of the Coppinville section of Enterprise, Ala.

Getting to know the neighbors, so to speak


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A few years ago, I discovered that my great-great-grandmother Narcis Pinkard (1864-1934) was buried in Porterdale Cemetery in Columbus, Ga. This cemetery is also the final resting place of quite a few notable black Georgians. Among them:

  • Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett (1886-1939): nicknamed the Mother of the Blu

    Ma Rainey, nicknamed the Mother of the Blues, is buried in Porterdale Cemetery in Columbus, Ga., which is also where my great-great-grandmother Narcis Pinkard is buried.

    es, Ma Rainey was one of the first blues singers to record music. She got her start by performing in live vaudeville shows and went on to record with jazz legend Louis Armstrong and noted bandleader Tommy Dorsey. She eventually returned to her hometown of Columbus, where she ran three theaters and served as a church musician.

  • Rev. Primus King (1900-1986): a Baptist minister and civil rights leader whose 1944 lawsuit protesting Georgia’s all-white primary resulted in all citizen being granted the right to register and vote.
  • Alfonso Biggs (1904-2003): a master chef who cooked for three U.S. presidents– Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower.

    My great-great grandmother is likely buried in an unmarked grave; the record from the funeral home indicates she was buried at Porterdale, but an online search of her grave’s location didn’t reveal anything.