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years of ongoing research by Janice Barnes Bridges and Renée Ruffin Merrill, compiling years of census data and other historical documents, but most importantly, the great stories obtained from family members, such as Radie Dagins Barnes Hill, Nellie Mae Barnes Williams, Mary Alice Barnes Brock,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


  1. Congratulations on finding your "true" Barnes family. You have proven research that doesn't connect to our family tree doesn't go to waste.

  2. Thanks so much, Linda! It truly is the journey, isn't it?