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. 


  1. Excellent use of negative evidence! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey. I too have a similar story of oral history being proven correct and of a long line of family living in one tiny, rural location where everyone is related to each other (Edisto Island, Charleston County, SC).

    Great job! Thanks for sharing, Deborah

  2. Another Louisiana researcher. Great work. Some birth and death certificates do exist prior to 1916, but they are not available for all parishes and the ones that do exist do not always have all the information listed. My great grandmother's marriage certificate doesn't list her or her husband's parents and her death certificate listed her as Mrs Philip Michel and no parents. Took another eight years to find her parents' names.