Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mary Leonce Jones and Tips for African American Genealogy

Mary Jones. 

Can there be a more common name than this? That was what I thought while researching this ancestor, before I found her maiden name.

One of my goals for researching my family history was to have a "full" family tree to hang on my wall. I never thought I would have a tree stretching back hundreds of years due to the abyss slavery created. So, my idea of a "full tree" was 5 generations including myself. 

This meant learning the stories of my 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents and all 16 of my great-great-grandparents, including the maiden names of all the women. After many years of research, I am proud that as of last year (2014), I reached this goal! I still have to order my tree, but I'll get there.

This week for the #52Ancestors Challenge by Amy Johnson Crow, I decided to share the story of my paternal 2nd great-grandmother Mary Leonce Jones. This post is an explanatory approach as to how I conduct my genealogy research. Hopefully, those interested in genealogy research, particularly for African descendants, would find this helpful.

1. Oral History 

aka Start With What You Know

Oral history is what initially got me interested genealogy research. I loved listening to my maternal grandmother go on and on about the family. I did not always believe her and secretly set out to prove her wrong. However, I found her oral history extremely accurate. 

My father's side has been more challenging to research in part because my father passed away earlier than expected. Both his parents had passed before I was born and most of my aunts and uncles had limited knowledge of the family history. But, I didn't let this stop me. I had a goal... I wanted to know about my people. I wanted my "full" family tree!

Too often, oral history and written history are viewed at odds with one another. This does not need to be the case. We all should listen intently to the stories our elders share with us about our family and community. It will lead to invaluable clues. While it is true that oral history is not always the accurate, that does not mean the elders are trying to mislead us. It simply means they may have misinterpreted facts or combined several ancestors into one.

Before researching Mary Jones, I knew that my grandmother Julia Jones was partially raised by her "Uncle Tot". This was an important piece of information, which will come into play later. I also knew my grandmother's parents were Ignace Ernest Jones and Adelaide Grant, from her death certificate. I found a couple different Ernest Jones in the area through Census records. 

How did I know which Ernest Jones was mine?

2. US Census

My internet repository of choice is I know a lot of people complain about the fees, but I understand. They have millions of records and they have already scanned, transcribed and organized much of them. Also, if funds are tight you can cancel your membership and keep access to your tree.

For my research, one of the first sources I reference is the US Census. The US Census records provide invaluable information. I tend to work backwards, first finding my grandmother and her siblings and parents. Then, I search for her parents as children and so forth. Trouble struck when I found several men with the name Adam Jones (Mary's husband). You won't believe how many Adam and Mary Jones there were!

The US Census is wonderful, but it is easy to start researching someone else's family tree and not your own, if you are not careful. This almost happened to me.

How could I know I had the right family?

3. Death Certificates

I ordered death certificates for a few possible candidates. This lead me to this discovery: Ernest Jones' parents were Adam J. Jones and Mary Leonce! I finally had Mary's maiden name. Whooo hooo!

I knew this was my Ernest because it shows that his body was shipped to Wallace, Louisiana. This is a tiny town where my family is from. It also lists his second wife Gertrude!

[Tip: Don't just research your direct line. Add in all wives and children in the family. I will help confirm the identity of your ancestor, especially if they have a common name.]

Death certificates have been invaluable to my research. For the State of Louisiana, I can order any certificates over 100 years old online for $5.

Back to the Census

With this information, I went back to the Census to find my Adam J. Jones and Mary Leonce Jones. I looked at a few who also had son's named Ernest. 

How would I ever get this straight? 

Then, I noticed that one couple had a man who lived next door with the surname Leonce. I found my people! Remember, often family members lived right next door to their kin: parents, siblings and children never really were that far from one another. So, who was this guy? I looked at his age and he was only a couple years younger than Mary. There are no birth certificates during this time, so the only way to confirm parents would be through marriage certificates.

4. Marriage Certificates

I started to broaden my research and look at the neighbor/relative of Mary Leonce Jones.
By researching Mary's neighbor and brother, I was able to find the names of their parents through his marriage certificate.

Luckily Mary Jones got a little more unique in that her birth name was Mary Leonce, a unique surname. I conducted a search for just this surname and found that all the people of color with this name were from a neighboring parish: St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.

How/why did Mary and her brother move to St. John? Maybe it was because she was to be wed. I quickly learned how in these rural areas everyone was kin. Often people looked to the next parish over for a mate. The parishes were only a few miles apart, so one could walk if they chose.

So, that's how I did it. I slowly trace and confirm one relationship at a time. I started with what I knew: my late grandmother. I used her death certificate, the US Census, her father's death certificate and his mother's brother's marriage certificate to confirm their relationships.

Mary's Story

From everything I have been able to gather through my research, Mary Leonce was born about May 1862 possibly in Saint Charles, Louisiana, USA. Her parents were Angeline Harriet and August Leonce. She has one known sibling, Augustus, who married Leonie Rixner. They resided next door to Mary after she wed Adam J. Jones of Wallace, Saint John the Baptist Parish Louisiana in 1878. I have yet to obtain Mary and Adam's marriage certificate, but that is on my to research list.

Mary and Adam made their home surrounded by Adam's family in Wallace. They had 10 children:

Morris Jones
Ignace Ernest Jones
August Jones (named after Mary's father)
Armontine Jones
Clifford Jones
Vanderbilt "Victor" Jones
Angele Jones Pablo
Clarence Jones
Olive Jones
Willis "Uncle Tot" Jones *

5. Obituary Research:

The youngest Jones son, "Uncle Tot", helped to raise my orphaned grandmother after her parents passed away. Through his obituary, I was able to confirm more information about the family. Obituary research is often overlooked. It provides a plethora of information in one source. I like to use for my obituary research, but there are others. Pick any you like.

Here is my Great-Uncle's obituary, which cemented him into my known Jones family.
It also provided the married names of some of the women in the family. This is helpful for finding living cousins. 


Willis (Uncle Tot-Totee) Jones, of Wallace, LA, at his residence, on Wednesday, December 9, 1981 at 9:00 p.m., beloved son of the late Adam and Mary Jones; brother of the late Morris, Ernest, Victor, Clifford, and Clarence Jones, Amontine, and Angeli Pablo; devoted uncle of Julia Dumas, Alvin and August Jones, Nolan and Lucille Pablo, Shirley Ross, Florida Johnson, Willie and Philip Rogers and the late Elvira Holland, Cora and Lucille Jones, Almedia Raymond; great uncle of Curtis, Larry, Clifford, Ronald, Ernest, Leo, Clarence, Olga Mae, Patricia, Debora, Alana, and Margaret Dumas, Lillian Miles and Mary Butler; uncle-in-law of Curtis Dumas, Priscilla Jones, Dorothy Pablo, and Mrs. August Jones; brother-in-law of Carmen Jones; deceased also survived by other relatives and friends. A native and resident of Wallace, LA, age 85 years.

Relatives and friends of the family, also pastors, officers and members of the Morning Star Baptist Church, all neighboring Churches, Willow Grove Society, are invited to attend the funeral. Services from the Woodville Baptist Church, Wallace, LA, on Monday, December 14, 1981 at 12:00 noon. Rev. Linton Grant, pastor, Rev. Floria Johnson, officiating.

Interment in Willow Grove Cemetery. Wake services on Sunday, December 13, 1981 at 8:30 p.m. from the above name Church. Visitation after 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Earl Baloney & Sons MOrtuary, in charge of arrangements. Carment M. Baloney, Directors.

What I learned...

Researching my 2x great-grandmother was an amazing journey. I learned that this line had been in this region of Louisiana for a very long time. It is the same neighborhood where my great-grandfather Ernest, my grandmother Julia and my father called home.

I learned that Mary was a literate woman, but her husband was not. This makes me curious about her childhood. I know she was born before slavery ended and was unable to find any record of her parents in records, so I assume they too were enslaved as well.

In 1900, Adam and his 3 eldest sons worked as farm laborers, most likely on one of the nearby sugar plantations. Though they were a humble people, they owned their own home free and clear. What an accomplishment! 

By 1910, Mary would be deceased, leaving her husband, Adam, to care for their remaining children with the help his mother Clara. Mary died before birth and death certificates were issued in the state of Louisiana, so I have not been able to obtain an exact date of her birth or death.

Still, I hope I have proven that we don't need those documents to prove our lineage and uncover our family history. 

Tips for Your Family History: 

1. Document your oral history

2. Use the Census

3. Verify through documentation 

(death/marriage certificates)

4. Don't forget about obituaries of other relatives.

5. Tell the story of your people. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Catherine Prophet Henderson (circa 1842-1918)

This week's entry for Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors Challenge is about another maternal ancestor.

My current focus is on the women in the family, since they are often overlooked. Part of the reason women are harder to find is because their surname often changes due to marriage and remarriage.

This is a story about my 3x great-grandmother Catherine Prophet Henderson.

Catherine Prophet Henderson's estimated date of birth is 3 Mar 1842 in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, USA. Her exact date of birth is unknown because she was born a bondswoman, held as a slave for the first decades of her life. According to her death certificate, her parents were Peggy and Miner Prophet, both of Natchez, Mississippi. 

Catherine Prophet married a man who carried the surname Henderson. Mr. Henderson's identity remains a mystery. I am not sure if he ever resided with his family in Ascension Parish or if they were split apart.

They had a daughter named Susan "Susie" Henderson. She would go on to marry Charlie Morris, son of Representative Milton Morris. Susie and her family lived on the neighboring Belle-Helene Plantation.

Ashland aka Belle-Helene Plantation
Geisemer, Ascension, Louisiana, USA
Ascension Parish, Louisiana

Catherine's Home

Catherine is buried on 
The Bowden Plantation, which was purchased in 1858 by Duncan F. Kenner. 

The Bowden Plantation was adjacent to the Ashland Belle-Helene Plantation on the Mississippi River near Geismar, Ascension Parish, Louisiana, USA. Both plantations were owned by D.F. Kenner. Kenner was one of the largest slave owners not only in Louisiana, but in the entire United States. Before the Civil War. In 1860, he owned over 473 human beings, including my Catherine. 

Catherine did not always live in Ascension Parish. She was born in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi circa 1842. 

The question remains...

How did the family get from Mississippi to Louisiana?


1. One of the largest slave markets in the country was located in Natchez. If I am ever able to piece together the family after the slave auctions, I would have to look here. There was an infamous outdoor slave market called "The Forks in the Road Slave Market at Natchez". It is possible that Catherine was born in Natchez and sold from this large market. 

Duncan F. Kenner
2. After researching Duncan Farrar Kenner's family (the slave holder), it appears Duncan's mother was originally from Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, USA. Her name was Mary Minor Kenner (1787-1814). Perhaps I could find some additional information about her which would lead to information about my Catherine. Maybe Catherine and her children were "gifted" to her son.
Future Research: 
1. Who was Catherine's husband? 
2. Did Catherine have more children? 
3. Research the Hendersons and Prophets. 
4. Was Catherine sold or gifted from Kenner's mother?
5. Pay a visit to the plantation to pay respect. 

Catherine Prophet Henderson died a free woman on the Bowden Plantation, Ascension Parish, Louisiana, USA on 12 Mar 1918. Her life was full of many hardships based on her position. She witnessed the injustice of slavery, the horrors of the Civil War and the violent aftermath. To me, Catherine symbolizes the opitme of feminine strength.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Finding Eve's Daughter


I recently submitted a DNA test with 23andMe. This particular test, provides not only an ethnic breakdown, but also specifics regarding my direct maternal lineage.

Geneticists refer to the most common female ancestor for humanity "Mitochondrial Eve", Her name is in honor of the female mitochondrial DNA a mother passes along to her children. A father does not pass along this DNA to his children. This type of DNA changes extremely slowly, so it allows scientists to trace the movement of women across time and space.

Based on my mitochondrial DNA, the geneticists were able to locate the origins of one of Mitochondrial Eve's daughters. She is my mother's mother's mother's (X a lot) mother. Let's just call her my Great Mother.

Scientists created a genetic family tree for all of humanity. On this tree, Mitochondrial Eve is known by a letter L, located in Eastern Africa. Her daughters, are known by a combination of letters and numbers known as a haplogroup. 

My haplogroup is L1b1a. This type is most common among the Mandinka (Manding) people and the Fula (Fulani) people of West Africa.

My Great Mother has Two Famous Children: 

The Mandinka
Map of Mandingo Land
Courtesy of Wikipedia: Mandinka people

The Mandinka
were a fierce, intelligent people. They built the Mali Empire and defended it bravely. They were scholars in Islam. They built temples and universities in the city of Timbuktu. People traveled from all over the world to learn their techniques in medicine, mathematics and astronomy.  

The Fulani
Fulani Woman
Courtesy of Wikipedia page: Fula people

The Fula (also known as Fulbe, Fulani, or Peul in French) are a nomadic people with a rich musical heritage. They, too, were a brave people. By trade, they were herders and craftspeople. It is believed they have origins in Egypt. The Fula live by a strict moral code. Though they are cousins with the Mandinka, they did not always get along.

This DNA test revealed that my direct maternal ancestor originated in what is present day Mali. Though this line originated in Mali, a large concentration is found further West in Senegambia, due to migration patterns after the collapse of the Empire. Both ethnic groups described above are still found in present-day Mali and Senegambia

This discovery has been so exciting to me for several reasons. 

1. Since educating myself about the history of Louisiana and our connection to Mali, I have been utterly obsessed with learning about the history of this ancient empire. The richest man who ever lived was Mansa Musa, Emperor of Mali. (Yes, even with inflation, he was richer than Bill Gates because of his monopoly on the gold mines.)

2. The Louisiana Creole flag honors of West African ancestors from Senegal in the top right quadrant and Mali in the lower left quadrant. The reason a connection has always been known is because the French colonized Senegal and forcefully migrated people directly to Louisiana during the eighteenth century. Basically, I think this proves that my direct female line has been in Louisiana a long ass time. (That's a technical term.) 

3. The first test I took with AncestryDNA revealed that approximately 15% of the DNA I carry originated in either Mali or Senegal. I am not sure why, but knowing that these are my people and that it aligns with history has been incredibly empowering.

4. The kid and I recently completed a unit study on Mali. He is not a history person, but he was so intrigued. We plan on adding a visit to Mali to our bucket list of places to see before we die. 
Who doesn't want to see this? 

Ancient Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali

5. Too often, Louisiana Creoles overemphasize our French and Iberian fathers, but forget about our Malian and Senegambian mothers. I am so proud to carry within me the genetic material of strong, beautiful and intelligent black women who came directly from the Mother Land to our second home--Louisiana. 

I have not named my Great Mother. But, knowing me, I probably will. So, if anyone knows any names for a Mali woman, let me know. Until then, I will celebrate my "Great Mother" and her children in Mali, Senegambia and Louisiana.

UPDATE: I have chosen to name my matriclan mother Mariam, which happens to be the most popular female name in Mali. It is a religious name, a version of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Elizabeth Georgie

Lately, I have been writing mostly about the men in my ancestry. That changes today! This month, I plan to focus on the fantastic women I have uncovered.
First, up is my 4th great-grandmother 
Elizabeth Georgie.

Elizabeth was born circa 1810. and she lived in Edgard, Saint John theBaptist Parish, Louisiana.

I discovered her name by accident, on the death certificate of my 3rd great-grandfather Honore Borne, Sr.

Death Certificate of Honoré Borne, Sr. (1830-1921)
Original held by Julia Dumas

After discovering his parents, I learned that Elizabeth had children with a plantation overseer named Adelard Borne. She bore at least three children by him.

Elizabeth's children: 

Honore Borne

Sylvestre Borne 

Sylvain Borne

The colored Borne children all lived in close proximity to one another, worked as laborers on a sugar plantation and married women of color. They were identified as "mulatto" on Census records. Their biracial heritage was obvious.

I can only speculate as to the nature of her relationship with Adelard Borne (1807-1860). My first thought was, "Oh God, I am the child of rape!"
He was a free white man in a position of power. She, a woman of color, likely enslaved. The power dichotomy between these two individuals is evident.

Three theories regarding Elizabeth: 

1. She was a free woman of color, possibly living in the household of someone else. This would explain why I cannot find her.

2. She was his concubine or placée. Plantation owners and overseers often had concubines of color. How consentual these unions were is up for debate. Many women were coerced and threatened with violence if they did not comply. Others may have chosen to enter into such a union with the promise of protection and the hope that their children would be freed. For many women, it was better to be "taken" by one man than by many.

3. Elizabeth was enslaved on the plantation where Adelard was the overseer. According to law, an enslaved woman could not be raped. Still, rape and sexual coercion was the norm for many women who held as property.

Adelard later married and had “legitimate” children after having children with Elizabeth. I am curious what his relationship was like with his colored children. They knew him well enough to document it. 

How DNA has helped: 
Taking the AncestryDNA test has also proved links to the white Bornes. Many of them did not know their family had a connection to slavery. They have, however, been very open and kind about learning about our shared family history.

Future Research:

I have my work cut out for me if I am going to find out more information about Elizabeth. 

Things I need to research:

1. On what plantation was Adelard an overseer? This may help me locate Elizabeth.

2. I was able to find several black George and Georges families after Emancipation in the Census. Is Elizabeth connected to the black George and Georges families in the parish?

3. Can I find any evidence that Elizabeth was indeed free?

Mother Borne's Legacy:

Far too often women in our family history fall into oblivion. I am so proud I have been able to claim Elizabeth Georgie as “Mother Borne”. She is the matriarch of all the colored Bornes in Saint John the Baptist Parish. She has many children. I pray she is proud of how far we have come. We no longer work on sugar plantations. Today, we work as educators, counselors, medical professionals and serve in the military.