Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Quest for the Ancestor Who Vanished after 1920

By Esther Eley Jones

Alma Lavenia Coon was four years and nine months old when her mother became ill, was taken to a hospital, died, and was never seen again by her family.  This story has been repeated in my family for as long as I can remember.  That was the story that my mom remembered being told about her mother, Mary Lavenia Ramsey Coon. Alma Lavenia was my mother. She was born in Brookhaven Pike County Mississippi on 02 March 1916 to Mary Lavenia Ramsey and Clifton Coon.

Mary Lavenia “Vennie” Ramsey was born in Pricedale, MS in Nov 1876 to Asa and Jane Ramsey. Asa served in the Confederate Army Eighth Mississippi Calvary Co B and the Seventeenth Regiment Mississippi Infantry Co F. Venie married first W.G. “Joe” Blunt 06 Apr 1893 in Pike County Mississippi. The Blunts were some of the earliest settlers for Pike County Mississippi.

I had very little information to go on in researching this line in my family. With the information that I had, I decided to make a trip to the courthouses in Pike County and Lincoln County Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the Archives in Jackson.  I made the trip to the courthouse in McComb, Mississippi, and there I found a marriage bond of Mary Lavenia Ramsey and her first husband W. G. Blunt.  On the marriage bond was her father’s initials and Venie’s age. Things were really going well in my research of this family, considering that I had such little information to go on when I started my research.

After the trip to the courthouse, it was time to look at the census indexes and Soundex for the state of Mississippi.  This search paid off because I found Mary Lavenia on the 1880 census living with her father, mother, and sister in Beat 3 Pike County, Mississippi, and her place of birth as Mississippi.  Venie was three years old at the time of this census.  On the 1900 census, I found Mary with her first husband and son living in the same area that she was living in 1880.  Mary was twenty three years old, had been married seven years, and  was the mother of three children with only one child still living. I continued my search for information on the Ramsey family line by looking at the 1910 census for Mississippi. I found a Mary L. Coon was thirty-three years old and living in Lincoln County, Mississippi with husband Clifton, stepson, two sons, and two daughters. Two of the sons were the same age. Were they twins? I had never heard mother mention twins in her family. We had two aunts that we visited who lived in Lake Providence East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. She talked of her brothers, but never mentioned twins.

I was having some successes, but more research, and conversation with my oldest sister Ruby, would clear up the information that was a little cloudy for me.  She was ten years older than I was, had knowledge of the family history, and was able to clarify the information I had found on the 1910 census. Clifton was Venie’s second husband. The daughters and one son on the census were Venie’s by her first husband, one son was Clifton’s by his first wife, and the other son, the youngest, was Venie and Clifton’s son. Now that I had that clarified, I was ready to move on.

I set out to find who Clifton’s first wife was, and when he married. I found that information in a compiled list of marriages from the local newspapers for Lincoln County, Mississippi. He married the first time 27 June 1900. I found another record of the marriage in the HUNTING FOR BEARS computer indexed marriage records published by Nicholas Russell Murray for Lincoln County, Mississippi from 1893-1913.  Another record that I found helpful in establishing Clifton Coon and Lavenia Coon as my ancestors was the World War I Draft Registration Card, 1917-1918. Lavenia was listed as his wife on the registration card. Other valuable information on the draft registration card was Clifton’s full name and his birth date. Next, I went to the 1920 census for Lincoln County, Mississippi and looked for Venie and Clifton. I found them on the census, with all the children who were listed on the previous census for 1910, plus four more children, two sons and three daughters. My mother, Alma, was the youngest daughter and her brother, George, was the youngest child. Mother was four years and nine months old at the time the January 8, 1920 Federal Census was taken for the Ruth Precinct in Lincoln County, Mississippi. All nine children were listed on this year's census living with Venie Coon listed as the head. 

The census showed that Venie was married and not widowed. This is the last census on which Mary Lavenia Ramsey Blunt Coon is enumerated.  Her husband Clifton Coon is enumerated on the January 16, 1920 Federal Census for Beat 1, Marion County, Mississippi listed as a boarder and is widowed. I was unable to find Clifton on the 1930 census in Mississippi, but found him on the 1930 census in Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish, Louisiana with the two youngest children, one stepdaughter, step-son-in-law, and their three children. Living close by them were relatives who apparently migrated from Mississippi when they left and headed west. One of the sons married in West Carroll Parish September 27, 1930 and on his marriage license it stated that Venie Coon, his mother, was deceased. My mother, married April 29, 1932, and on her marriage license, it stated that Venie Coon, her mother, was deceased.

My search for Mary Lavenia Coon ended with the 1920 census. I requested a death certificate from the state of Mississippi and Louisiana, but there is no certificate for her death or record of death. I have looked in the surrounding counties and states, but there are no records of Mary Lavenia “Venie” Coon. Venie’s parents were buried in the Wingo Cemetery a family cemetery in Pike County, Mississippi, and there are unmarked graves in the cemetery. Could one possibly be my grandmother Venie's grave? This I will never know.

I have hit the ultimate brick wall and have exhausted every resource that is available for that area where my ancestor lived. Maybe one day there will be a story in an old newspaper, a distant relative, or a resource that is hidden somewhere, that will tear down this wall. I will continue my quest for a grandmother that I never knew, the one that became ill, was taken to the hospital, and died to never be seen again by her family. My mother lived with that story her entire life and she died at the age of seventy-eight.


1870 Federal Census Marshall Mississippi
1880 Federal Census Pike County Mississippi
1900 Federal Census Pike County Mississippi
1910 Federal Census Lincoln County Mississippi
1920 Federal Census Lincoln County Mississippi
Marriage Bond Pike County Mississippi #352
U. S Civil War Soldiers’ 1861-1865 film # M232 roll 33
Mississippi Death Index
Louisiana Death Index
Wingo Cemetery Pike County MS Record
U. S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 Mississippi District Roll 1
World War I Draft Registration Card 1917-1918 Roll 1685027
Marriage Records #103 & # 232


Sunday, June 26, 2016


by Esther Eley Jones

The idea of becoming the family historian may seem a bit overwhelming at first. You might ask, why am I doing this? Can’t someone else do this? The answer is probably, yes, they can, but the family history will become more alive and exciting with you doing the research yourself.  When I started tracing my family’s roots I had very little information to use in my quest. There was a deep longing to know where those roots started: Who are my ancestors? Where did my ancestors come from? How did they get here? When did they get here? Tracing families' roots would be a long, grueling process; however, it could be done by formulating a plan, and following the plan. This plan had to be uncomplicated and simple for it to be completed. How was the process developed?  First, I would began with myself and write my story.  Next, I would gather information about  my father, his mother, and her parents. In order to gather as much information as I could about the lives of my ancestors I would interview family members, and finally. I would learn about genealogy and how to be an expert family historian.   

Rather than the process of gathering information, I began with my story. Yes, my story was worth telling. So I started by asking simple questions and writing down the answers. Where was I born? When was I born? What were my parents’ names? Where did I live? Where did I go to school? Who were my neighbors? Then I thought of different events that went on during my early years. Was I alive during a war? The Vietnam War took place in my early twenties.  Were there any major events that took place during my life? President Kennedy was assassinated during my college years.  How did I feel about these events?   As I asked questions, I began to see the story of my life unfold. This was the beginning of my family history and I went through the same process with my parents. I was now becoming the family historian.

I started my story with myself; the next person was my father. I wrote down everything that I knew about my father. There was a family story about my father's birth. Was this story fact or just as another family story with little truth to it. I had some stories to share about my father so I also wrote those down. Now I was ready to add a new branch to the family tree. I wrote down everything that I knew about my grandmother, her first and last name, and birth date, place of birth, her parents’ names, and her marriage date. I remembered my grandmother’s visits with us so I shared some of those stories.

My grandmother was born in Alabama so I used the internet and researched the city and county and added that information to my research. I also looked for compiled records from previous researchers such as biographies, family histories, or family trees.  The Internet helped me and can help you trace family roots, and locate information about the culture of ancestors, traditions, homeland, and history. A vast amount of knowledge and information is instantly available by the click of a keystroke. I was able to trace my grandmother’s great-grandfather to South Carolina. At the present, I am unable to find information on my grandmother’s great-great-grandfather. However, I continue to search all available resources hoping that I will be able to get a break through. 

I wrote down everything I knew about my ancestors.  Then, I narrowed that process down to one ancestor by choosing a family member about who I wanted to learn more. Other things that I did in my quest for information and knowledge was to seek the help of family members and to find out how much information they could share with me about the family line that I was researching.  Several years before this I asked my mother to give me the names and birth dates of my father’s parents and his four sisters and brother. I had filed that information away in a safe place.  Now was the time to get that sheet that I filed away and start my journey. At this point I had enough information to help me in tracing the roots of my father’s family. I needed to decide whether to research my grandfather’s or my grandmother’s familial lineage. I knew more about my grandmother’s side of the family so I started with her line. Now I needed to gather documentation to confirm the dates and parent-child relationships of each generation. My oldest sister gave me enough information to help fill in some of the gaps on that family line.  Now I was really getting excited because I had enough information to go to census records and conduct a search. Also, I could look for birth records, death records, and expand my search even further by looking for land records, wills, church records, probate records, and military records.

I needed to learn more about genealogy. My desire was to become an expert family historian, so I knew that I had to become involved. The easiest and most enjoyable way to learn more about genealogy was to join a genealogical society. Another way to learn about genealogy is to read basic books about genealogy. There are excellent articles in popular genealogy periodicals such as Ancestry Magazine, Family Tree Magazine, and Heritage Quest Magazine. Other ways to learn about genealogy are take classes, listen to webinars, attend workshops, attend conferences, and lectures at the public library, or take a home study course.  I subscribed to several good genealogy blogs who share teaching articles with their subscribers.  There are several good genealogy blogs, and those blogs are a great way to stay connected to the genealogy world. Sign up for those blogs and you can learn tips from these genealogists. 

In my quest for knowledge of my families’ roots, my reputation as the family historian has been established.  I am enjoying my journey in my quest for knowledge. It is an exciting journey!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bernard Keith Midkiff: The Little Boy Who Wasn’t Forgotten Re-examined

By Esther Eley Jones

Death Certificate for Bernard Keith Midkiff
Back in July 215 I wrote an article, Bernard Keith Midkiff:  The Little Boy Who Wasn’t Forgotten. In the article I stated that little Bernard Keith died of SIDs. The 13 January 1959 when the baby died, the cause of death that was given to a family member was SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

This morning I received an email from my sister stating that my brother-in-law would like to order a headstone for the baby and his mother, our sister Jean who died 21 Feb 2012. My sister asked if I would  get the birth and death certificates for both of them? This request was a challenge for me since I don’t know the place of Jean’s death. I do have the birth dates and places of birth for both Jean and Baby Bernard Keith. I started the search by going to and  begin the search for Bernard Keith. That search proved to be a good one since a volunteer had taken the time to take photos of the grave marker and the vital information and place it on  Bernard Keith’s interment was also on, but not his mother Jean’s information.

Then, I decided to do a Google search to see if there were any online death certificates for them. There was a death certificate placed online for Bernard Keith Midkiff. As I read through the death record and came to the information for the cause of death I was shocked as to the cause of death listed on the record. After the initial shock of the cause of death wore off, I began to  realize now more than before how important it is to have records to verify family information. This information for the cause of death is an important fact for anyone who is doing a family medical history.

Why Trace Your Family’s History?

Photo from author's personal collection
People have many reasons for tracing their family history. The reason for tracing my family’s history is most likely different from yours. When I was growing up in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana paternal line relatives lived nearby our family. We visited aunts and uncles whom lived nearby, however; I did not know until I was an adult, that those were my Lee relatives. Our parents just didn’t talk about their families. When I retired and became interested in family history research, I wanted to learn about maternal relatives, and learn how the relatives who lived nearby our family in West Carroll Parish fit into our family. Therefore, I had a mission that became a hobby – tracing my maternal and paternal family history and find out who they are and where they came from. 
Regardless who you are and where you are in life, there are some reasons why you should learn about your family and become passionate about their history.

What are your reasons for tracing your family’s history? Maybe you would like learn about your family. You may be asking who they are or where did they come from?  Where do you fit into the family? Maybe you want to teach your children about family. Then you may just want to connect with living relatives. There are folks who want to learn about health risk so they delve into family history research for health reasons. There are various reasons people trace their families’ history.

Learn about family:  If family is important to you, then you may want to learn who your family is and where they came from. Perhaps there is a family story that you would like to know if it is true or not. The story that was told in my family was that, “Daddy’s father was Uncle Johnny Edwards.” When I started my journey to learn about family I didn’t set out to prove or disprove that story. I had recently retired and needed something that I would enjoy and that would keep me busy. Genealogy/family history filled that need.  You might want to know if some of those family stories that were told about Granny were true or were they just folklore. On the other hand, you might want to know who the Edwards folks were who came from Alabama to visit your family, and were given special treatment while visiting? Who was the aunt who came from Texas to visit and when she came, would bring clothes for the children in the family and would cut the girls’ hair? Daddy told stories about an Uncle Bob Lee and he talked about how he loved him.  Who is Uncle Bob Lee? Who is “ol Tack Lee?” Whatever questions have been nagging you, the answer will never come if you don’t start looking. The answers to these questions are out there you have to start at the beginning and work to find them.

Teach your children:  It doesn’t matter how old your children are tracing family history is an important way to teach them about family, where they came from, their roots, and their heritage. Teaching children about family strengthens family relationships, encourages family relationships and bonds the family. When you teach your children about their family’s history, it becomes personal for them. If you have a family member who served in the military during a war, tell the story of that person’s experience. If the family member was drafted share the draft registration papers with the children, and explain what the draft was during that time, or if enlisted share the enlistment papers. This makes the stories more interesting and personal.

To connect with living relatives:  I have connected with living relatives that I haven’t seen since I was a young girl growing up in West Carroll Parish. The family photo is one that a double first cousin that I reconnected with after about sixty years shared with me. Tracing your family history can open you up to a whole other family you didn't even know existed.  The further back in time you research, the more cousins you will discover.  Not only can you connect with new relatives and form new relationships, but also you might even discover that someone you've known your whole life is - in fact - related to you.I have two new found cousins in the local genealogy group. My husband has learned from tracing his Colvin lineage that most of his classmates in school and most of the folks who were his neighbors in Unionville, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana were in fact relatives.

For health reasons:  Maybe there are certain diseases that seem to run in your family.  That seemed to be the case for my mother-in-law’s Colvin family. There were several family members who had died from cancer. I collect death certificates on my aunts, uncles, cousins, or anyone else where the information is pertinent to do a medical history. and to tract certain diseases in the family line. I have started a medical history on my family for my children, grandchildren, and me. The reason that some people choose to get involved in genealogy is health reasons and to trace their medical history.  That is possible now with DNA testing.  The cause of death is listed on death certificates, sometimes obituaries and funeral home records.  By tracing your family history, you might discover a pattern in the cause of death for some of your relatives.  The Colvin family members were diagnosed with cancer in the forty to fifty age ranges. Cancer as the cause of death would be something to look for on a death certificate. Learning that several of your family members died from a specific form of cancer or a rare disease might make you more inclined to stay on top of those physicals or seek out a specific screening test that you otherwise wouldn't have taken the time to get done.

The reasons for tracing family history vary from person to person. Knowing your family’s history gives a sense of accomplishment. It is a feeling of being connected to you family from the past, it may improves family relationships, it may mend family ties, and gives you a feeling of knowing your family and a feeling of belonging. 

Tracing family histories is so much easier now with the massive resources available online; however, there are documents and records in courthouses just waiting for the dust to come off, to be digitized and to be put online. Therefore, in your quest to trace your family’s history use those online resources, but make a research trip to courthouses also. And do get involved in an indexing project. That to is a rewarding hobby.  

By all means, start your journey into family history research. It is a rewarding hobby and future generations will love you for it. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Family History: Why Research Family?

I have found the meaning of family history be different depending on the dictionary you use. The one I will use here is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Check out the article on Family Search Blog and you decide: You may be asking yourself why research family? There are many reasons for researching family. Here are a some of the reasons that I have heard as to why people research families.

  • A hobby - needed something to do and family history piqued interest
  • To learn about family - to learn about my ancestors and where they originated.
  • Find birth parents - to determine the birth parents of an adopted child or to find children given up for adoption.
  • Proof of biological father - to determine the biological father of a child.
  • Trace Medical Diseases -  to assess the certain diseases medical that tend to run in families.
  • Prove Native American - I am full blood Cherokee Indian and I want to prove it.
  • Family Stories - to prove a family story that has been in the family.
  • Linage Societies - to apply for membership into a linage society
  • Reconnect with cousins - to find living cousins
  • Family legacy – so our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will learn of their heritage.

Whatever the reason for deciding to take the journey into family history research, the consensus is it is rewarding and fun.  There is a deep desire within our human nature to search for to know who we are and where we came from. Where was mother born? Where did grandma and grandpa come from? Where did they originate? Where did they live? What were their lives like? What was grandpa’s occupation? Those questions are answered as you research your ancestors and collect a history of them. By collecting the history of your ancestors and the places they lived, you began to see them as real people, with families and with struggles. Gleaning the information from each record, you can then write stories of their lives.

One very important reason is the information you will find gives you a snapshot of what life was like for them. I have a snapshot of my mother' and her siblings lives after her mother became ill, taken away to a hospital, and never returned. They did not know what happened to her.  Mother was a small child of four and half years old at that time. That snapshot of their lives gives mea feeling that these were  people who had carry on with their lives. As you research your family will learn about your family and your place in that family allowing your children and grandchildren to learn of their heritage. You may find stories in your family such as my mother's that gives you a better understanding of the actions of certain family members.

As you begin your journey into family history choose one family line as your focus family. Beginning with yourself collect all the records available about you. You will most likely have a birth certificate, school records, baby’s book, school yearbooks, report cards, and doctor’s reports. Keeping in mind the method you will use to organize the records. You will want to organize as you go for that will save you time and frustration at a later date.

Decide how you will organize the information. Notebook binders are a great way to save paper copies of the records collected. Labeling each binder with a family surname will help to organize the family’s information. Then, collect all the information available on your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Do not tackle more than one family at a time to research. If you tackle too much at one time you may get overwhelmed with it, and give up researching all together. You may choose to use cloud storage for your family history. The choice is yours, and you will need to decide what works best for you.

Take your time and enjoy researching your ancestors.  They will still be there when you get to them.

by Esther Eley Jones