Aaron Bryan(t), Son of Anarky


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In May 1839, a boy named Aaron, along with his mother and siblings become part of an inheritance to Loverd Bryan, a wealthy planter whose father died from wounds he sustained during the Creek Indian War. They leave Randolph County, Ga., and go further south, into neighboring Stewart County, Ga., where their new owner had built a lavish home overlooking the sprawling cotton fields where they would work.

Loverd Bryan was at least the second generation of the Bryan family that once owned my ancestors. Researching the maternal side of my family, I discovered that my Bryant relatives were once Bryan. Today I discovered it was a surname they adopted from their owners, Irish immigrants who had settled in North Carolina before relocating to southwest Georgia.

This is Loverd Bryan (1804-1887), the man to whom my third great-grandfather Aaron Bryant was given in 1839

I had been researching Bryans in Stewart County, Georgia and found myself coming back to a particular person, Loverd Bryan. I found out that he was an early pioneer of Stewart County, and also the owner of a large plantation. Here’s a picture of his house:

The migration patterns of this family were too similar to my ancestors for there not to be a connection; they had lived in southwest Georgia counties for years, and more specifically Stewart and Terrell counties, which is where my family had lived. I thought that I might be able to find a will so I could confirm my suspicion that Loverd Bryan owned my third great-grandfather Aaron Bryant, but Loverd died after Emancipation.

So I set out to look for his family. I found out that Loverd was the son of Clement Bryan, and happened upon a book that mentioned Clement by name. The book, Slavery in Southwest Georgia, noted that Clement Bryan went through great pains not to break up the family units among his slaves, and listed a quote from his will that mentioned “Matthew and his wife Violet…”

“A-ha!” I thought. “Maybe Matthew and Violet are Aaron’s parents!”

Not quite. I was able to find Clement Bryan’s will on familysearch.org. I read through it and found out he was quite a wealthy man. He had a wife, six children and dozens of slaves– who were divided among his heirs. Among his instructions– that “twelve negroes, Alfred and his wife Anarky, and her children Jack, Tom, Rose, Aaron, Louisa, Henry, Jim, young Betty Green, Prince and Charles” be given to his eldest son Loverd.

My third great-grandfather Aaron Bryant is listed in the will of Clement Bryan of Randolph County, Ga. The will also lists the names of Aaron’s mother and siblings.

There, scrawled before me, was an entire generation of my family I hadn’t known before, listed right before a yellow Bay filly, blacksmith tools and a road wagon.


Dovie Nance finds her Waterloo


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One of the branches that had grown cold was that of Dovie Nance Ardis, one of my great-grandfather’s younger sisters. I knew her birthdate (Jan. 7, 1902), that she married and had three children and lived in Dale County, Ala. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even have a death date for her.

Last year, by happenstance, I found the gravesite of one of her sons, Obie. Then a few weeks ago, I came across an obituary for her daughter, Lola Bell Ardis Alexander (1923-2012). I started reading it and discovered information that truly intrigued me:

  1. I have a host of relatives in Salt Lake City
  2.  Dovie Nance Ardis later became Dovie McKissick and spent her final days in Iowa. Waterloo, Iowa to be exact.

Iowa was one of the absolute last places that I expected the branches of my family tree to touch. I knew that several of my relatives left Alabama for Midwestern states, but to my knowledge it was Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. Iowa was never mentioned. (Apparently Waterloo, Iowa became a destination for black railroad workers after white employees went on strike in the the early 1900s. The Illinois Central Railroad recruited black men from Southern states as strikebreakers. )

I did some more digging and this is what I was able to put together:

By the 1950s, the newly named Dovie McKissick was living in Dothan, Ala., with her husband, Charlie. According to city directories, the McKissicks lived in Dothan until Charlie’s death in 1963, which ruled out my theory that Dovie had followed her husband to Iowa. Nevertheless, sometime between 1963 and 1972, Dovie moved to Waterloo, Iowa.


This is the only picture I have of my Aunt Dovie (right, 1902-1972), who was one of my great-grandfather’s younger sisters. 

Then I thought maybe she followed her daughter Lola there. According to the obituary, Lola Bell Alexander had been a “longtime resident” of Waterloo, Iowa. She and her husband had moved there from Minnesota, but it’s not clear when.

Right now, I’m researching what I can about Dovie and Lola’s spouses– Charlie McKissick and Peter Alexander– to see what else I can find out about the paths their lives took, and how and why they ended up in Iowa.



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 ancestry.com 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.