Finding Eliza

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By , November 22, 2017 8:41 am

This is the 1874 guardianship document that made the orphaned 13 year old Robert Norris a ward of Jasper C. Mixon, the nephew of his former slave owner. This is where I discovered that Robert’s mother was named Eliza Mixon. Aunt Jean always said that Robert was “given away” but she thought it was to someone named Norris and that’s how he got his name. She had the essence of the story right but not the facts.



Here’s the transcript of the guardianship papers (see image above) for Robert Norris that names Eliza Mixon as his mother. Becky (Becca) Mixon who was raising him and died is probably his aunt and Henry Mixon (Small) is probably his 1st cousin.

The State of Alabama ~~ Wilcox County.

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS, That we Jasper C. Mixon, James C. Gross and T.W. Price are held and firmly bound unto John T. Cook, Judge of the Probate Court of said county, and his successors in office, in the penal sum of One Hundred Dollars, for the due and faithful performance of which sum, well and truly to be made, we bind ourselves, our Heirs, Executors and Administrators, jointly and severally, firmly by the Presents.

Sealed with our Seals, and dated this 25th day of February A.D. 1874 (1874)

THE CONDITION of the above Obligation is such; That, Whereas, the above bound Jasper C. Mixon has been duly appointed Guardian of the person of Tom Mixon over the age of fourteen years, and Henry and Robert Mixon. (Henry the son of Becky Mixon and Robert the son of Eliza Mixon) The said Henry and Robert being under fourteen years of age.

NOW, THEREFORE, Should the said Jasper C. Mixon we and truly do and perform all the duties which are or may be required of him by law as such Guardian of the three boys as aforesaid then this obligation to be void, else to be and remain in full force and effect.

Approved, this 27th day of February 1874
John T. Cook
Judge of Probate

Jasper C. Mixon
James C. Gross
T.W. Price

Connection to the Free State of Winston

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By , July 23, 2017 11:34 am

Knew that not all southerners supported the Confederacy but never thought about my family in connection with Winston County, Alabama (“Free State of Winston”). Came across this interesting tidbit written by an Ingle descendant while working on my family tree this morning. John Byrd Norris would have been my GF’s 2nd cousin, mine twice removed. Just, wow!

f9cce708-a8ed-470f-84db-8086575bf817“Winston County was a “no-man’s-land” in the year 1863. Mayhem was being committed upon the population of that poor county, and in the Counties of Walker, Marion, Franklin, and other contiguous counties of the area. The Confederates had what were called “Impressment Officers” who would find an eligible man for military, arrest him, keep him tied to a tree for five days in which time he had to make up his mind to join the Confederate Army. If he decided not to join, he was shot. That amounted to “heads I win, and tails you lose.” Either way, he lost.

There are some cases that could be cited here; however, the most illustrative one of which I am more familiar is the case of John Byrd Norris, the husband of Lodusca Darthula Frances Ingle, the daughter of George Washington Ingle, granddaughter of Peter Ingle, and g. granddaughter of Paulser Ingle. John Byrd Norris deliberately refused to join. He was taken to the Jasper, Alabama area and held for the five days, and shot “seven times in the back, where the “gallowses crossed”. (gallowses are the across-shoulder suspenders for men who wear overalls). That case, in my opinion, is what stirred up rebellion in the Confederate ranks and caused 9000-12000 Confederate troops to desert their units and find their way to the 1st AL Cav, USA, which was organized in Glendale, MS, and had some troops stationed in Mooresville, and Decatur, AL.”

Reposted from Facebook on November 11, 2018.

Gone to Texas

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By , May 26, 2016 10:00 pm

I received my copy of “Historic Eagle Lake” yesterday. Eagle Lake, TX is where Robert Norris’ grandmother, Mary Ann Sewell Norris and her children went after the Civil War. Although I knew that they went to Texas I didn’t know when they left Alabama and why they settled in Eagle Lake where they became prominent citizens. Now I know that between 1873-1875 they joined Robert’s uncles Dr. Frank O. Norris and Dr. John K. Davidson who had established medical practices there. One of the more interesting discoveries was that in 1903 Dr. F.O. Norris built the only three-story structure in town for the kingly sum of $12,500. The Norris Building was described as “the finest office building between Houston and San Antonio.” Dr. Norris was also an alderman and Dr. Davidson served 4 consecutive terms as mayor. Another uncle, Samuel W. Norris, was postmaster and his wife Lucy succeeded him when he died in 1882 and served as postmistress for another 20 years. Their son, John Alexander Norris, was an engineer and, according to an entry in the Handbook of Texas Online, one of those responsible for establishing the Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District in 1929, “the first such state agency in the United States to control and develop waters of an entire river basin.” I stopped in Eagle Lake about 5 years years ago on my way home from San Antonio and paid respects to our ancestors buried in the Masonic Cemetery but didn’t get a chance to go into town. The Prairie Edge Museum there has a lot of Norris history.


A 5th Cousin Match

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By , November 22, 2015 8:02 am

Cousin found! I don’t usually pursue DNA matches beyond 4th cousins because, more often than not, after a few back and forths the search for our common ancestor ends in futility. However, this time I made an exception when a predicted 5th cousin contacted me on 23andme and so glad I did. We found our connection in record time, like 20 minutes, because we each had done the work. Our MRCA are my 4th and his 5th great grandparents Reese Kelso Watkins and Sarah Barber, ancestors of my paternal GF Robert Norris. I am descended from their daughter Nancy who married William Norris; he is descended from their daughter Sarah. The Watkins came from Wales to PA ca. 1700; the Barbers were Scotch-Irish who settled in Craigs Creek, Augusta County, VA. My branch of this family ended up in Wilcox County, AL by way of Craigs Creek then Johnston County, NC then Oglethorpe County, GA. His went to Vermilion Parish, LA.

Like me, my new cousin is African American. Both of us have found white Watkins and Barber cousins but what’s remarkable is that we found our common ancestry through the brick wall imposed by slavery. His 2xGGM was an enslaved woman of Native American ancestry. He still carries her A2 genetic marker. My GF born into slavery in 1861 was the offspring of a mulatto slave and a white Norris. He is the first African American cousin I’ve confirmed who is not a close relative to me. The chances of us finding each other were less than 2%!

I can track my GF’s white ancestors back to their European homelands and their arrival in this country before the Revolution. Hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to do the same for my enslaved ancestors beyond the generic African designation.

Source: Reposted from Facebook on November 22, 2017,

The Mystery Surrounding William Young Norris

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By , February 26, 2015 2:18 pm

I was searching for something a few nights ago and chanced upon two letters dated March 9, 1868 from a woman named Mollie A. Armstrong to Isabelle Donoho Norris and to William Young Norris among the Donoho family papers at the UA Library. Mollie Armstrong didn’t ring a bell right away but the Norris name made me stop in my tracks. I read the letters.

Mollie, aka Mary Ann Norris Armstrong, was my GF Robert Norris’ aunt and William was his uncle (or maybe even his father) and Isabelle was William’s wife. I’ve been trying to find out what happened to William for years, he just dropped off the radar screen after the Civil War. I came across Isabelle Donoho and William Young Norris before but they lived in a county I didn’t associate with my Norris family and there was nothing else to corroborate that Isabelle’s William was my William.

Until these letters! Mollie wrote to Isabelle and her brother asking about his health and urging him to come back to Camden to visit with his family. It seems that he died maybe not long after but certainly before 1870 and Isabelle remarried. That’s why I could never find him again. Mystery solved!

From the notes to the guide to the papers: “The Donoho family lived in and around Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the early and mid nineteenth century. Charles Mitchell Dohono (1809-1856) married Rebecca Trowbridge Whitcomb (1817-1846) and had two children: Henry Seymour and Isabelle (1842-1915). Rebecca Dohono died 30 March 1846, leaving Charles with the two young children. An aunt, Mrs. A. M. Peek, cared for the children.

Henry served in the Alabama 2nd Battalion Light Artillery, Company F, Lumsden’s Company; he enlisted on 21 February 1861 as a private. His cousin, Charles Donoho, enlisted on 29 November 1861, also as a private. Henry was captured on 15 December 1864, near Nashville, Tennessee, and spent the remainder of the war in various prisoner of war camps in Kentucky and Illinois. Charles was also captured in Tuscaloosa, on 18 May 1865.

Isabelle married twice, first to William Young Norris around 1867, and second to Samuel Lowrie Robertson. She and Samuel had eight children.”

The Donoho family papers were purchased from an antiquarian book dealer in Lancaster, PA, in 2013. I don’t know how long the images have been online but they were in the right place at the right time for me to find them. Serendipity!

Here are photos of my GF Robert Norris and his aunt, Mary Ann “Mollie” Norris Armstrong. Do you see a family resemblance?

Robert Norris - Mollie A. Armstrong

Source: Republished from Facebook on February 26, 2016:

Revisiting the McMillans

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By , November 21, 2014 1:50 am

Ding, ding, ding. Little bells are going off in my head this morning. Don’t know why it has taken me so long to put this together. The clues have been there all along. Cousins in my generation will remember that our parents always told us that Papa’s father was a Mr. McMillan. Well, that was called into question by my research a long time ago and finally put to rest with DNA results that proved that Papa’s father was a Norris. But the McMillan connection was still nagging at me. There were white McMillans living nearby when Papa was a child and he farmed land owned by Lee McMillan. Papa also named his son Earl Lee after the middle names of Lee McMillan’s two sons, Emmet Earl and Edwin Lee. Why? Ding, ding, ding. He obviously had a close personal relationship with the man in addition to the business one.

This morning I was looking at the ancestors of Robert’s firstborn James Henry Norris’ wife, Susie Mixon. Susie was the daughter of Charley Mixon and Charley was the son of Sam Mixon. Well, there were a lot of Mixons in the area and a lot of Sams and Charlie Mixons so I was spending a little time sorting them out. I have known for a long time that In the 20-30 years following Emancipation when black folks were still trying to decide what they wanted their surname to be, that Susie’s grandfather Sam and one of her uncles, Jim, were sometimes recorded as Mixon in the census and sometimes as McMillan. Also, in 1880 when he was 19 years old, Robert lived with Jim Mixon/McMillan. After staring at these names over and over, I remembered two things: (1) our cousin C. George Mixon (actually a Dawson but his step-grandfather who raised him was a Mixon) told me once that Robert’s children were their own cousins (through the Mixons), and (2) when Dad and I visited Wilcox County in the late 90s, our guide Mr. Shaw told us that Robert could go behind the counter at the general store and help himself to whatever he wanted (Lee McMillan was a merchant on the 1910 census) and that whites treated Robert differently than other blacks because everyone knew that he was “related to the folks around here.” Hmmm.

So here’s my breakthrough this morning . . . . we know that Robert’s father was not a McMillan but what if his maternal GRANDFATHER was a Mr. McMillan! That’s right, what IF his MOTHER’s (who we know absolutely nothing about) father was a McMillan. So this is my homework this weekend (and my assistant researcher Arianna Cydney-Laurel Williams’s too) to find the connection between Robert’s mother – who must have died in childbirth or when he was very young – and the McMillans of Wilcox County, AL. Lesson learned: listen to the family stories. The facts might not be exactly right but there’s always a kernel of truth in there somewhere.

A Family Finder Match

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By , June 23, 2014 7:49 pm

After being stalled in the search for my GF’s parents for so long, the floodgates have been opened! On Sunday, I sent out queries to five of my father’s 2nd-4th cousin matches on Family Finder. Everyone answered quickly with as much information as they could provide but I was unable to make any immediate connections except to one person who turned out to be a great grandson of Missouri Shields Priest, the lady in the photo I compared with my GF’s. I’m overwhelmed! It was just a few days ago that I was able to establish the paper trail and now I have the DNA evidence proving my GF’s Shields ancestry. This also helped answer another vexing question, i.e., whether one of Josiah Norris’ sons, or Josiah himself, fathered my GF. Since Josiah’s wife, Mary Ann Norris, was the Shields descendant, I am now pretty certain that one of her three oldest sons, James, John or William Norris, was Robert’s father. That means that Missouri Shields and Robert Norris were first cousins, 2x removed and shared about 3% of their autosomal DNA. That is, unless, my GF had DOUBLE Shields ancestry through his mother. So, big question, where do I go from here to look next for Robert’s Norris’ enslaved mother?

Better and Better

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By , June 22, 2014 8:00 pm

It just keeps getting better and better. After more than a decade, I was able to contact the woman who originally provided the deed gifting a slave girl Julia to my GF’s grandmother, Mary Norris. Thank goodness some of us keep the same email addresses!

Turns out she wrote a history of the Shields family. She was in the process of moving so couldn’t put her hands on it but she was gracious enough to provide some information “to keep you going” while she looks for it.

In the meantime, I found this article online. The William B. Shields referred to in the story is Mary Ann Norris’ maternal uncle making him my GF’s great grand uncle. The story of William Shields and his enslaved offspring is absolutely fascinating. It also illustrates the discussion yesterday that the children’s status follow the mother.

I can’t believe that two people that I corresponded with starting in 1998 about Dallas County, AL and the Black Belt genealogy in general turn out to be related to me! How fortunate for me that they are both still online.

Now if I can just confirm that the slave girl Julia is my missing GM, my work will be finished. I feel as though my GF is guiding my hand these days.

Victoria man learns he is a descendant of slaves, looks for relatives

Mary Rebecca Shields Ewers YarbroughFor most of his life, Daryl Ewers believed he was white, but two years ago, he learned he is a descendant of slaves.

“I just found out a few years ago that I am part black. I did not know this,” he said

Ewers, 54, of Victoria, said learning he has black ancestry is very exciting and his main reason for talking about it is because he wants to get in touch with his African-American relatives from whom his paternal family was separated during slavery.

“My great-great-grandfather was William B. Shields, a planter from Perry County, Ala., who had several biracial children by a black slave woman. I don’t know who she was. I don’t know her name or what their relationship was,” he said.

Before then, the Shields family, who was of Irish origins, had lived in North Carolina, he said.

First Lady Michelle Obama has descended from the white Shields family of the Carolinas, and Ewers said they may be related.

In 1848, Shields moved to Mexico with his family, where slavery was already abolished, and began negotiating with Alabama legislators. He wanted to will his plantation to his children, but the state of Alabama wouldn’t allow it.

“He also wanted to free them, so the state of Alabama did a special legislation on it where they could be free – but only in three or four counties,” said Ewers. Eventually, he did manage to gain legal title for his children as “free blacks” within the United States. Shields bought 3,300 acres in Polk County, Texas.

He taught his children to marry white to avoid having their families kidnapped and sold into slavery. He also taught his children how to read and write and gave them an education. They lived in Mexico until the Civil War ended.

“My great-grandmother, Mary Shields, and her brother were both arrested in Texas for marrying white, and there was a $500 bail,” said Ewers, who is a fiscal manager.

He learned his family’s history from discussions with family members and a 2010 book titled “Positos/Oakley Texas 1886,” by Mamie L. Ballard.

“Now, I don’t know where I fit in,” Ewers said. “I have been raised to believe that I am white, but now I find that is not true. Most people believe that I am Hispanic when they first meet me. Although I enjoy learning about my black ancestry, I certainly don’t feel as if I am a part of the black culture. So, if not white, then what am I?”

Shields’ son, Archie, and his son, also named William B., were Buffalo Soldiers in Brackettville.

And what is the most powerful message Ewers learned from all this?

“You don’t give up, you fight. It’s survival,” said Ewers. “I am strong because of the older generations. I am here, and I have a life to look forward to. If the slaves lived today, they could celebrate with us.”

Source: 18 Jun 2013.


Shields Family Connection

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By , June 22, 2014 10:57 am

Forgive my babbling this morning but after a long night of researching I feel I’m so close to finding my paternal GGM. I’ve been looking for her for as long as I’ve been doing genealogy and I keep coming back to a single document shared with me about 15 years ago: an 1848 deed of sale between a William B. Shields and Mary Ann Norris gifting “a Negro girl Julia about twelve years old, and her increase if there shall be any to have and to hold the said Girl Julia and her increase unto her the said Mary Ann and her heirs as aforesaid forever.” I didn’t know it at the time but one of Mary Ann Norris’ sons (or her husband) fathered my GF (since “confirmed” by DNA tests). Last night and into the wee hours this morning, I discovered that Mary Ann’s mother’s maiden name was Shields and like William B. Shields, she was from NC. More research revealed that Nancy Shields had a brother named William Bryant Shields, the same age as William B. Shields. Between Ancestry and Family Search and posts on the AFRIGENEAS SURNAME FORUM between me and a William B. Shields’ descendant dating back to 2004/5, I found a Shields family tree that seemed to link Nancy Shields and William Shields.and there were photos of one of William’s mulatto children (his is a fascinating story that I’ll have to tell another day). To the point: the slave girl Julia would have been 24 or 25 years old when my GF was born in 1861. And, if she was a mulatto like William Shields’ own children, it would explain my GF’s appearance. It’s even possible that Julia was one of Shields’ own children! I’ve always believed that my GF’s mother died in childbirth or when he was very young as she was never mentioned and I haven’t been able to find her in any records so I don’t know how I can prove this but finding the apparent family relationship (there are still some discrepancies in the family trees so haven’t “proved” this yet) between Mary Ann Norris and William B. Shields gives me hope that I am on the right track once again. After I saw her photo, couldn’t help but think that Missouri Shields (William’s daughter) and my GF Robert Norris are related. What do you think?

Robert Norris - Missouri Shields

Source: Originally posted on June 19, 2014 on the AfriGeneas African American Genealogy Community on Facebook,

Josiah Norris query on GenForum dated May 2001

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By , April 11, 2014 9:51 am

Here’s a query I posted on GenForum back in 2001. I had forgotten about it and it contains some good information on the sons of Josiah Norris that I haven’t been able to find anything further about. I also need to go back and find all these old postings to update my email address so that folks can find me.

Hi Catherine,

I’m also researching this family, especially during the time they resided in Wilcox County, AL. Here’s a query I sent out some months ago:

I’m still searching for information on J.E. Norris and descendants. I’m grateful to Teresa Evans who provided data some time ago but I have yet to determine where this family went after 1860. Someone else must be researching this line.

This is what I know to date:

Josiah E. Norris, b. abt. 1799 in probably Oglethorpe Co., GA, married Mary A. Sewell on 6 Oct 1837 in Perry Co., AL.

Josiah E. Norris purchased land in Sect 3, T16N R6E, bordering Perry, Dallas, Wilcox and Marengo Counties ca 1833-1837.

Joseph E. Norris is mentioned in a Perry County deed dated Feb 1848 between William B. Shields and Joseph’s wife Mary Ann Norris.

J.E. Norris and family were enumerated in the 1850 Dallas County Census:

J.E. Norris, 52 M
M.A. Norris, 34 F
John A. Norris, 13 M
Wm Y. Norris, 10 M
J.B. Norris, 8 M
M.A. Norris, 5 F
S.D. Norris, 4 M
E.J. Norris, 2 F
Nancy Sewell, 70 F

J.E. Norris and sons were enumerated in several households in the 1860 Wilcox County Census (Western Division, Prairie Bluff P.O.):

#61 J.B. Norris 18 M
(enumerated in household of)
#61 J.A. Ervin 25 M
#61 Elizabeth Ervin 28 F
#69 John A. Norris 21 M
(enumerated with)
#69 G.W. Smalls 21 M
#69 Thomas Wilkinson 18 M
#69 J.C. Mixon 26 M

#70 J.E. Norris 61 M
#70 Mary A. Norris 40 F
#70 Mary A. Norris 15 F
#70 Samuel Norris 12 M
#70 Jane E. Norris 10 F
#70 Franklin Norris 9 M
#70 Nancy Sewell 82 F

Where did this family go after 1860? Is anyone else researching this line? J.E. may have been a brother or other relative of William H. or Rigdon Norris who acquired contiguous property in the same period.

I received the following response from Harold Norris:

In a book written by Harry A. Davis in 1930 entitled “The Norris Family of Maryland and Virginia” the following information is given on your J.E. Norris:

631. Joseph E. (7) Norris

(631.) Joseph E. (7) Norris (William 6, Joseph 5, Edward 4, John 3, Edward 2, Thomas 1) was born in Franklin County, Georgia in 1798.

He migrated to Alabama about 1832 and married there, prior to 1837, Martha A. Sewell, daughter of widow Nancy Sewell. Nancy Sewell was born in North Carolina in 1780. Her daughter, Margaret was born in North Carolina in 1816.

Joseph was a mechanic and resided in Dallas County, Alabama. This family moved to Texas after the civil war and no further record.

i. John A. b. 1837 Served as Pvt., Co. K., 17th Ala. Inf., C.S.A.
ii. William Young b. 1840 Served as Pvt. and Corporal, Co. E., 3rd Ala. Inf., C.S.A. Enlisted Apr 23, 1861 and discharged for disability Aug 19, 1862.
iii. James B. b. 1842 Served as Pvt., Co. E., 10th Ala. Inf., C.S.A.
iv. Mary A. b. 1845 Said to have married a Mr. Armstrong and resided in Hays County, Texas after 1870.
v. Samuel D. b. 1846
vi. Ella Jane b. 1848

Maybe you can get some more out of this. Mr. Davis listed all his siblings and his ancestry back another 6 generations. If you would like this information, I would be glad to send it to you.

I hope this helps, Catherine. Can you help me fill in some gaps in Alabama?

B.J. Norris Smothers

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