Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chasing Cow Herders (Part 1 of 2)

The English name Cowart is a derivation of Cowherd, a tender of cattle (another variation of the name is Coward),  so I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that I have generations of farmers helping my family tree grow.

My mother's paternal grandmother's name was Ella Cowart. I don't think that my mother ever knew this, as it was quite a surprise to her sisters when I told them this. The name that they had always heard was "Shownee/Shoney" -- a name which, even today, I still cannot place the origin of. After ordering a copy of my grandfather Lee Barnes' Social Security application a couple of years ago, I was shocked to see that he had written "Coward" (a variation of Cowart) as his mother's maiden name. This led me on a quest to find out more about Ella Coward/Cowart, particularly there weren't many living relatives left to ask about this, and none of them knew the name Cowart. I already knew that my grandfather's parents' names were Cal and Ella, so I had already found the family, including my grandfather and his siblings, in the census records following his birth in 1909, but I needed to go further back, particularly since I was unable to locate a marriage certificate for them.

So, I began to scour the census records for any Ella Cowart/Cowards and discovered a 17-year old "Ella L.B. Cowart" living in Fair River, Lincoln County, MS with her parents Isaac and Matilda, and 8 younger siblings: Newit, Louisa, Flora, Alice, Mary, Benjamin, Dock and Mabelle. I still have no idea what the "L.B." initials stood for, but I'm thinking that it could possibly have been an abbreviation for a nickname such as "Little Bit" -- I have no real basis for this other than knowing that I come from a long line of nicknamers. Of course, I needed to do a little geographic research to see if she could be a match from that standpoint, and she was. 

At that time, I had no real solid confirmation that this was the right family, but continued to research them. I felt that I was going in the right direction because I was able to find a marriage certificate for Isaac Cowart and Matilda A. Brown, dated January 20, 1884. It wasn't the first time that I had come across the Brown family as I was concurrently researching them being a possibility of being a connection on my Smith side (my mother's mother's family), but that's a whole other post. It wasn't until connecting with a Barnes cousin who had also been researching the family, that I was able to confirm that Ella's mother's name was Matilda and that one of Ella's daughters, Lillian, was nicknamed "Lil Tildy" after her grandmother.

My next valuable resource was the 1892 Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children for Lincoln County. There, I was able to find that Isaac had registered his children for school. The names listed were: Annie (age 19), Ella (12), "N" (Newit, 10), Mittie (still uncertain as to who this child is, 8), and Flora (16). I had never come across the oldest child, Annie, so this was a wonderful find. Also included under Isaac's entry was another Cowart named Mandy who registered her children, Ola (19), Mary (18), Ike (11), Virgil (6), and Thomas (5). Who was Mandy, and what was her connection to Isaac?
  • Could she have been another wife? This seemed unlikely as most of the records showed either one or both parents registering their children being denoted on one line, together, i.e., "John and Mary."
  • Could she have been an older child? Because Isaac was 46 years old at this time, this, too, seemed unlikely because Mandy's oldest child was 19.
  • Could she have been a sister or another relative? I thought this seemed to be the most likely hypothesis because they had children of nearly the same age.
So, I assumed that Mandy had to be a sister or other close relative, but was not immediately able to find her or her children in the census in that area. Mandy got put in the "work on later" pile of ancestors. Sorry, Mandy, maybe we'll see you again later.

Sometime during all of this research, I was fortunate enough to connect with a fellow Cowart descendant/researcher on Ancestry.com. Her grandmother was Mary Cowart, the sister of my great-grandmother, Ella. She apologized that she didn't know much about the Cowart family, but she did share some interesting stories about Isaac's character. Family folklore says that Isaac, rumored to have been part Indian himself, staged a sit-in of sorts in the middle of Lincoln County to protest the Indians being moved to Oklahoma. This is definitely a story that I'll have to look further into!

Stories like this, combined with the fact that I couldn't find any traces of Isaac prior to 1900 in the census led me to turn him into a mystical character in my mind -- I had no further information on him to go on, and no idea from whom or where he came, so I just figured that he would forever be one of those unsolvable mysteries.

Lucky for me, I am like an old dog with a favorite bone, I'm going to go back and dig it up and knock it around a bit more. So, after putting Isaac down for a while, I did something really simple -- I searched for him again in the census, this time, taking out much of the detail and starting from scratch. In doing so, I was finally able to find Isaac in 1880! The name was transcribed as "Conard," a name that I could scarcely decode from the way the letters were written. What helped is that, just below his name, was a more clear writing of his wife Patsy's full name, "Patsy Coward," and that of his daughter, Anna (or Annie, as shown in the MS Enumeration of Educable Children)! I knew that Patsy was often used as a nickname for "Martha" back then, so I felt pleased that I was able to locate Isaac, his first wife Martha, and their daughter Anna in the 1880 census!

Further searches provided me with the 1870 census record of Isaac as a 30-year old man, living alone as a farm worker. His race is listed as "M" or "mulatto." One important thing I noted was the fact that Isaac's name was directly below that of another Cowart - an "E. Cowart" - a white physician living with his wife Pricilla and daughter Louisa. Thanks to the work of his descendants, I was able to identify him as Dr. Eliszer Cowart, son of Newit Cowart and Hannah Byrne, grandson of Needham M. Cowart and Esther Phoebe Blount. I rejoiced at having made this find because, not only were nicknames often used in my family, but also first names were passed down over and again. This is significant because my 2nd great-grandfather Isaac named some of his children the same names as those of Newit and Hannah Cowart's children and grandchildren, even Newit himself - the names Newit, Louisa, Flora, Alice, Mary and Benjamin all appear in both families. So, I really felt like I was onto something here -- could the Newit and Hannah Cowart family indeed be Isaac's slaveowners?

I wouldn't know for certain until I checked the slave schedules, starting with 1860 and working back to 1850. I looked for Eliszer first, in the advent that he might have owned Isaac, but didn't find Eliszer listed. I did find his father Newit, though!

In 1860, Newit is shown as owning 6 slaves: a 70-year old female, a 30-year old male, a 35-year old female, a 14-year old male, a 12-year old female, and a 10-year old female. The 14-year old male was a close enough age-match for me to assume this to be Isaac, but who were the others?

To be continued...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Kindness (most of the time) of Strangers

I'd be lying if I said that this genealogy thing was a piece of cake. Sometimes, it's just a pain in the ancestral butt. Like every fingerprint, the path to finding every ancestor is different. Things that work for one ancestor turn up zero results for another. Oftentimes, I can be bloodhound-red hot on the trail of an ancestor only to suddenly have it go cold. The biggest thing I have to keep telling myself is to be patient. Sometimes, I have to step away from that ancestor's search, or simply step away from my research entirely. Like Dolly Parton sang, "it's enough to drive you crazy if you let it." I think it's both healthy and productive to do this because, like taking a good nap or a well-deserved vacation, after doing so, I've found that my mind is refreshed and I'm able to take on the research with renewed energy and perspective.

Another way that I've been able to refresh my mind and work on my own research methods is to help others with their research. This, I truly love. When I'm able to help someone find an elusive relative, or decipher some illegible scrawl in a document, I get so much joy in celebrating with them! By no means do I claim to be an expert in any way, shape or form, but if there's anything that I've done or found that might be of help to someone else, I love to share it. Of course, this happens primarily in the ether that is the internet, but I can't really party down with them, but I can pretend.

Strangely, it was only recently that I began to ask for help myself - not because I didn't think others could help me, but because I wasn't sure if they would.  I don't know why I thought this. I had seen many people helping others with their genealogy questions, and I'd responded to others' requests for assistance, but I just never applied that to myself...until recently.

I've had such great success in corresponding with people, whether related or not, who have wanted to share their knowledge with me, and to get into the deep, murky trenches of my family history with me...and that's pretty darned cool. Some of them have been through Ancestry.com and others, through message boards and Facebook groups. I've learned a little bit of something from all of them, whether it was a new resource to research, a different way of looking at a record to draw additional information from it, or simply that everyone has their own unique style and preferences regarding their research, and that it may be different than mine, but that it's ALL GOOD. These kind folks have helped lead me toward finding documents I hadn't previously considered in learning about my ancestors and the way they lived and worked. I'll write a whole OTHER post on my latest discoveries.

So, I'm going to continue to seek out kindred spirits in this crazy world of research, always hoping to give more than I take, but at least making a fair effort to make an even trade. There are a lot of good people out there, doing great things, and helping others along the way. I plan to continue striving towards being one of those people, and having my interactions with them be happy ones because this is how Irene Barnes taught me to be. Perspective is key, period. No matter whether I successfully trace back to Mother Africa or Adam and Eve, I hope that all of my ancestors are proud of me, but more importantly, I hope that my children are prouder and that the legacy I leave them in the example of my life, not my accomplishments, is what they will cherish most of all.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, and a Few Steps to the Side

There are so many subtitles that I could give to this post:

  • "Support Your Research"
  • "To Assume is to Make an A$$ out of U and ME"
  • "Don't Believe Your Own Hype" (my favorite)
  • "Trust Your Instincts"
...Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but the general gist is that it is very easy to make mistakes when we are doing genealogy research. So, despite the fact that I've been researching my family trees for the past 7 years, and feel fairly comfortable with my skills of deduction and reasoning, I am still continually learning and improving my research skills -- one of the biggest lessons that I've learned is to not get set on what I think to be the right answer when I know that I haven't asked all of the right questions, and to not frustrated and give up when I've taken the wrong path.

In 2010, armed with a bunch of information from my most trust-worthy Barnes/Smith family source, my Aunt Mary Alice Barnes Brock, I started digging deeper into my maternal Barnes family research. I had primarily focused on my searching my dad's Ruffin/Pearson side, so after several phone calls picking my Aunt's brain, I loaded my new findings into my tree on Ancestry.com. When I'd asked her the oldest Barnes ancestor name that she knew, she told me that it was her father's father, Cal Barnes (whom she'd never met). She didn't know much about him, other than her dad referring to his father by the name "Cal" and saying that she remembered a big picture hanging in her dad's house of a very fair-skinned man with green eyes.

I located Cal, his wife Ella and their children fairly easily in the 1910 and 1920 Lawrence County, MS censuses, but not knowing anything more about him, I felt stuck. Since I knew his name was Cal, I assumed that it was a shortened version of "Calvin" and began to search for a "Calvin Barnes" in Lawrence County. I found a man named Calvin Barnes in that area in the 1880 census, living with his parents Archie and Harriet Barnes. I was so excited! Were these my 2x great-grandparents? I searched again, and found them all living together in the 1870, but Calvin's name was listed as Thompson. Thompson??? And, also, I was troubled by the fact that his birth year was quite a bit earlier than that of the Cal Barnes I found in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. Hmmm...

Nonetheless, I got caught up in my own research and blind hope that I had located my great-grandfather and his parents. I gleefully loaded them all into my tree and claimed them as my own, based on nothing but the census records. I was even more excited when I found Archie's parents, Samuel and Dorcas Barnes, living nearby. I began to research them as well, and was ecstatic to randomly Google Dorcas' name and found that she had applied to be recognized in the Five Tribes as a Native American and despite being rejected, I rejoiced in the fact that I was able to get the names of all of her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and most importantly, her Indian father and black mother! During all of this research, I had built up quite a community of contacts I had made through Ancestry.com of other hopeful Barnes "cousins" searching for family ties. I couldn't completely shake the nagging feeling that the facts of Calvin Barnes' birth year and residence location in the census didn't quite match that of my Cal Barnes, and even tried to be cautious in not telling these other folks that this was definitely my ancestor, but, the excitement of the find, and the fact that there were so many others that were benefiting from the information that I had gathered and shared online drew me into the belief that I had been successful. I believed my own hype to the point of even meeting some "cousins" in person I had connected with online while attending a reunion for my dad's side in Mississippi in 2012.

During that same trip, on the advice of Aunt Mary Alice, I arranged to meet some descendants of my great-uncle Coleman Barnes (my grandfather Lee's brother), who still lived in the area where my grandfather and his siblings grew up. It was a wonderful and enlightening visit, especially so when my new cousin Caroline excitedly told me that her sister Janice had also been researching the family tree for several years and that I should contact her. Although Caroline didn't know as many details as she said her sister did, she did share a tidbit that would change the course of my research on Cal Barnes. She referred to him as "Carrol," a name that I had come across in my search of the 1870 census, but dismissed because I was looking so diligently for "Calvin." One thing that I quickly picked up was in the way that she said the name. Being raised a "Northerner," I had always heard the Southern inflection in the way that my mom and dad said certain words, and speaking to Caroline and her family was no different. When she said our ancestor's name, my ears heard "Cal," but not until she spelled it, did I realize that she was actually saying "Carrol, " which is likely what the censustakers also heard when they wrote the name down in the later census records. I just didn't have my mind open to the fact that the census could have been misleading in this respect.

When I returned from my trip, I promptly called my cousin Janice and we happily spoke for hours about our research and shared family line. She confirmed that, based on trusted family sources, our 3x great-grandfather's name was Carrol  not Calvin, and that his mother's name was Sophronia, not Archie and Harriet as I had previously believed. With this new information, I had to swallow the fact that months of research into Calvin Barnes and his family was now rendered useless to me -- THEY WERE NOT MY FAMILY.

Although this was devastating to accept, it wasn't completely a loss because the effort wasn't wasted. In gathering and sharing the research that I had done on the Samuel and Dorcas Barnes family, I was able to help countless researchers with holes in their trees. I was able to provide documented proof of their ancestors' family names and rare, historical data about the lives of their ancestors during slavery as provided in their own voices in the Dawes interviews. My research also provided them with verification that they did, indeed, have Native American heritage, and they learned their ancestor's English and Choctaw names. I was also able to unify several present-day African-American researchers with their Native American cousins through Ancestry and Facebook. I was also able to share photos of family members with others who had never seen them. So, although it was my loss and their gain in respect to my research, it was my gain in respect to my being able to assist someone else, and that was priceless.

And, it wasn't a complete loss where my research is concerned because I did get to meet a whole family of my true cousins, find a kindred genealogy spirit in my cousin Janice, and learn who my real ancestors were, expanding my family base exponentially. The biggest gain that I have gotten out of all of this is that I was instrumental in assembling the first family reunion unifying the descendants of my grandfather Lee Barnes and 4 of his siblings this past Memorial Day in Yazoo City, MS! It was so incredible to gather all of these cousins who literally lived in the same community for generations, but didn't know one another, and to see the family resemblances and love shared among us was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I have ever had.

So, sometimes when we make mistakes, we have to not be defeated by them. We need to learn from them in order to not make them again (i.e., verify all information, get as much documented proof as possible, don't make assumptions), but we also need to learn how to turn every opportunity into a positive because the rewards reaped can be greater than you ever imagined!

The t-shirt logo that I designed for our reunion

Me giving a brief presentation on the family history at our reunion

Several Barnes cousins (including myself, 2nd from left)
showing our rewards for planning the reunion

Although some cousins were meeting for the first time,
they all spoke the language of bones...

and bid whist! We know we are cousins
because we are all competitive, but good-naturedly so.

My genealogy twin cousin Janice and me, who met for the first time that weekend.

A small fraction of the Barneses gathered that weekend

A special treat was a surprise first meeting with some of our Cowart cousins
(relatives of my maternal great-grandmother, Ella Mae Cowart Barnes).
I had previously "met" cousin Sharron (in blue shirt) via Ancestry.com.

After our closing family church service on Sunday, the cousins couldn't resist a rousing game of basketball! Players included male and female, young and old, suited and casual dress, skilled and not-so-skilled, and a few men of the cloth like my cousin, Pastor Eric Barnes (in purple shirt).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Barnes Family History (a work in progress)

Foreword: I initially wrote this document in 2012, while still in the early stages of finding out about Carrol Sr. and Sophronia. I am constantly updating it as I find out more. I hope to be able to continue to refine it as I learn more.
This family history was made possible through years of ongoing research by Janice Barnes Bridges and Renée Ruffin Merrill, compiling years of census data and other historical documents, but most importantly, the great stories obtained from family members, such as Radie Dagins Barnes Hill, Nellie Mae Barnes Williams, Mary Alice Barnes Brock, and others. Without those who came before us, there would be no history, and without them, these stories would not be told.

The earliest known ancestors in the Barnes family are Carrol and Sophronia Barnes. Not much is known about Carrol Sr. aside from seemingly conflicting family stories, which would imply that there was some confusion as to whether Sophronia was wife to, or mother to, my great-grandfather, Carrol "Cal" Barnes. Further research confirms that there were, in fact, TWO Carrol's, the son being named after the father. Carrol Sr. is found in the 1870 census, living with two other people (their relationship unknown) as a single 28-year old farmhand. Family stories describe Carrol as being part-Native American, and even passing as White. No further mention was made of Carrol in the census, but, by a stroke of luck, I was able to find him mentioned in the 1910 Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society as an active member of the Loyal Leagues (more info on this in a future post). This likely took place shortly following the abolition of slavery, as the Loyal Leagues were intimidated out of existence by the early 1870s. Based on the ages of their children, it appears that Carrol might have married Sophronia in or around 1878 and died sometime between 1879-1880, as he does not appear with the family in the 1880 census. 

Sophronia’s parents and maiden name are unknown, but according to the census, she was born in Mississippi in December of 1860. Family stories describe “Fronie” as a part-Indian (Shoney/Shawnee?) woman who came from either the Fernwood or Cheraw communities near Foxworth, MS.  At the age of 21, Fronie was already a widow and mother of two children – 2-year old Jennie/Ginnie and 1-year old Cal (Carrol Jr.).  Cal was said to have had green eyes and was considered a mulatto throughout his life. Fronie worked as a farmer to support her children. At this time, she lived in Beat 5 of Lawrence County.

The day after Valentine’s Day in 1883, Fronie married Sandy Cohea, a local farmer from North Carolina, who had also recently been widowed. Although Sandy was 22 years her senior, Fronie combined her household with his, becoming stepmother to his 5 children from his first marriage to Rebecca Haywood. By 1900, Fronie and Sandy’s household included his older daughters Polly Anne, Elizabeth (Lizzie), and Jane; Fronie’s daughter Jennie/Ginnie; and the 14-year old daughter they had together, Estelle.

In 1903, Fronie’s son Cal had also married – to a woman named Ella Mae Cowart. Ella was born in 1883 in Lincoln County, MS to Isaac Cowart (1846-1924, MS, to Elisa Cowart, father unknown) and Matilda Brown (born 1864, MS, to Maurice and Anna Brown), and was the eldest of 9 children. Ella was said to have been mulatto according to the census.

By April of 1910, Cal and Ella were still farming and had had 4 children – Irma (b. 1905 – could she also be Mabelle?), Coleman (1906-1978), Thomas (1908-2006), and my grandfather, Lee (1909-1978). They lived next door to Cal’s stepfather Sandy and mother Fronie, who had since added daughters Minnie and Mattie to their brood and also included in their household 7 grandchildren: Boss Davis; Maggie and Dora Belle Cohea; and Stella, Elija (Eli), Josephine, and Lizzie Brown. The whereabouts of Cal’s sister Jennie/Ginnie are unknown from this point forward.

The 1920 census shows Sandy and Fronie still living in Lawrence County, now with 4 of their younger grandchildren, Maggie, Elija, Josephine, and Lizzie/Bessie (?). Meanwhile, Cal and Ella’s family grew to include 7 more children:  Alice-Sophronia (1911-1967), Jennie (1913-?), Lillian (1914-1965), Bessie Mae (1914-2001), Essie Mae (1918-1957), Velma (1918-1969), and Doris (1919-1970). Although neither Cal nor Ella were said to have attended school, both were able to read and write.

By 1930, it is believed that Cal had died, as he is no longer found in any census records, and Ella had become remarried to a man named Solomon “Bunch” Stringer on Feb. 5, 1926. Living with them in Wanilla were 5 of her younger children, including Lee.  Their son Coleman had taken up work as a farm laborer, living with the family of William Baylis, who would ultimately marry Coleman’s cousin Dora Belle Cohea. Several of the siblings went to work in the active logging industry.  Fronie, now widowed, lived with her granddaughter Dora and Dora’s husband until her death in 1942. Although the 1940 census shows her being 95 years old, according to the earliest census Fronie is found in, 1880, she was born in about 1860, making her 80 years old. Sophronia "Fronie" Barnes Cohea is buried in Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in Monticello, MS.

Research is still being done, as the 1940 census for Mississippi is only now being released (as of Apr 2012). We have not yet located Ella Mae Cowart Barnes Stringer in this census.  We do know that several of Cal and Ella’s children had married by 1940, though.
  • Mabelle had married Rancy Johnson in about 1923 and moved to Yazoo City, MS.  No known chilldren.
  •  Coleman had married Radie Dagins on Feb. 20, 1932 and had 7 children: Cleotha (“Cleo,” b, 1933), Louise (b. 1936), Coleman Jr. (“Sonny,”1939-2011), Fred (1939-?), Lennie (bd unknown), Lessie (b. 1939), and Rosemary (“Mary,” b. 1945)
  • Thomas married Olivia McFarland of Columbia, MS; later moved to Winnfield, LA. 5 children of this union: Evelyn Barnes (?-1997), Robert Earl Barnes (1934-2001), Tommy “Bay” Barnes (b. 1936), Lester Ray Barnes (b. 1956), and Kathryn Sue Barnes (b. 1960)
  • Lee married Ella Smith (1915-1963) of Monticello, MS (Friendship) on Sept. 26, 1930; lived in Yazoo City, MS, but worked for Chickasaw Wood Products in Memphis, TN in the ‘40s. Of this union, 11 kids:
    •  Nellie Mae “Nell” Barnes Williams (1932-2002) – husband Harvey Lee Williams, 4 children
    •  J.V. Barnes (1934-2000) – wife Delois “Ree”, 11 children
    • Sarah Mae “Sadie” Barnes Luckett (b. 1935) – husband James “Joe Louis” Jones (Dec. 2005), 9 children
    • Irene “Rene” Barnes Ruffin (1937-1990) – husband Willie Ray Ruffin, 2 children and 6 stepchildren
    • Willie Lee “Bill” Barnes (1938-1971) – wife Louise, daughter Latasha (1971-2000)
    •  Madie Ree Barnes Williams (1940-1996) – husband William Thomas “W.T.” Williams, 4 children
    • Charles Ray Barnes (1942-1992) – wife Gladys, 2 children (1 deceased)
    • George Barnes (b. 1942) – wife Catherine “Cat” (divorced), 2 children
    • Mary Alice Barnes Brock (b. 1944) – husband Albert Brock, no children
    • Sylvia “Punch” Barnes (b. 1946) – never married, 2 children
    • Allen “Man” Barnes (b. 1955) – never married, 2 children
    • There were also 2 sets of twins stillborn
    • Lee also had a child before his marriage to Ella: Novella Daniels Williams (1930-2013) – first married a Daniels, with whom she had 1 child. 2nd husband, Johnnie Williams. Her family also came from Monticello, MS, but family name is unknown. Husband said she suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years
  • Alice-Sophronia married F.L. “Lewis/Louis” Sutton of Monticello, MS; they lived on “the river”. Had 2 kids: L.F. Sutton & Dessie/Dezzy Lee Sutton. She later married John “Bud” Holiway/Hollaway of Pen Oak, MS; no children of this union. She lived there till she died
  • Jennie
  •  Lillian married Reggie Stringer; no kids of this union. They lived on the “Patterson place” in Monticello, MS. Lillian and her niece Dessie Lee Sutton married two brothers
  • Bessie married Lewis/Louis Taylor of Columbia, MS. No children of this union, although Bessie had 1 child from a prior relationship
  • Essie married “T” Baker of Gulfport, MS (1st or real name unknown); no children of this union. Later married Robert Sanders; 3 children of this union
  • Velma married Robert Baker of Gulfport, MS (brother of Essie’s husband). Remarried a Cox (1st name unknown). Never had any children. Died in the 60’s
  • Doris married Ernest Sutton (Doris and Sophronia married two brothers); no kids of this union. Lived in New Hebron, MS on the “Sharp place”
Bessie attended Shady Grove M.B. Church (Silver Creek, MS). Coleman, Velma, and Essie all attended Oak Grove M.B. Church of Monticello, MS (all 3 buried there along with their mother). Lee Barnes attended Springfield M.B. Church of Yazoo City, MS and is buried there.

My maternal grandfather, Lee Barnes (1909-1978)
- a sharp-dressed man who had the biggest, prettiest teeth I had ever seen

Friday, September 27, 2013

Where to begin? The beginning!

When I sat down to think about what this blog was going to be about, I initially thought it would primarily trace my mother, Irene Barnes Ruffin's family history: the Barneses, the Smiths, the Cowarts, the Browns, the Suttons, the Baggetts, the Williams, and so many others. But then I began to think about my closest tie to these past ancestors - my mom.

I also want to write about "Irene Barnes," the woman that I knew and loved, the most unsung person I know. She only lived for 53 years, but she packed so much love into that time that it was as if she had lived several lifetimes. Still, now that 20 years have passed and I have two children of my own, I find that there's so much I want to ask and show and share and laugh about with her. Most of all, I feel like she is the type of woman, the type of person, that I strive to be, so I often ask myself not only WWJD, but WWMD (What Would Mama Do)? So, I try my best to pattern myself after her, and one of the best ways that I can think to do so is to acknowledge and honor those who paved the way for me - my elders and ancestors.
My mom struggled with high blood pressure and heart problems her whole life, and when she died suddenly of a heart attack in 1990, we all probably should have seen the signs, but none of us were prepared for it. Can you ever really be? So, one of the hard lessons she left me to learn was to take better care of my health and to let others know when I wasn't feeling 100% rather than suffering in silence.

There were so many areas where I was left wanting with the loss of my mom, but knowing more about our family's health history came to the forefront after her siblings started dying in the years immediately following her own death. So, this, combined with the fact that my mom passed one month before the family reunion we were planning to hold - finally bringing her siblings to our home in the North (a REALLY big deal for a family of people who basically stayed in the same area of Mississippi for 150 years) - and that now, our plans were for a funeral, led me to wanting to know more about my family, both the living ones as well as the deceased.

So, I'll probably be bouncing around, topic-wise, as inspiration takes hold, so bear with me. There WILL be a lot of genealogy-related posts, but sometimes, it might just be about what I ate for lunch. It might be a bit of a bumpy ride, but I promise that we'll laugh every now and then (well, one of us will), and that hopefully, I'll learn more about myself as I learn about my family history.

And, awayyyyyyy we go...