Category: Research Tools and Techniques

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:

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?

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,

Army 1st Sgt.Theodore Norris

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By , June 1, 2004 3:04 am

1st Sgt. Theodore Norris

Dad and I spent Memorial Day talking about his military career. He mentioned that he was drafted in the Army in 1942 when he was 24 years old. Started me looking for records online and found him in this great database a little while ago.

Title: World War II Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 6/1/2002 – 9/30/2002
Creator:National Archives and Records Administration. Office of Records Services – Washington, D.C. Modern Records Programs. Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division.
Level of Description: Series from Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration

Series: World War II Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File
This series has records on about nine million men and women who enlisted during World War II in the United States Army, including Army Reserves and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. NARA scanned War Department microfilmed punch cards on enlistments to support the reconstruction of the military personnel records at its National Personnel Record Center. Because of the microfilm’s poor condition, approximately 1.5 million records could not be scanned. Also, the file has no records for Army officers, members of other services or enlistments for other time periods. In general, each record has the serial number of a soldier, person’s name, state and county of residence, place of enlistment, date of enlistment, grade, branch, term of enlistment, place of birth, year of birth, race, education, civilian occupation, marital status, and component. These records present unique searching challenges.

Source: Reposted from LiveJournal 11/8/2011,

Research Trip to Wilcox County, AL 17 May 2004

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By , May 24, 2004 2:15 am

Took a trip down to Wilcox County on Monday 17 May 2004 to continue doing research on Dad’s Norris line. Learned last year that some old ledgers had been found in a county office building annex and were on the garbage heap to be thrown out when discovered. Also the Wilcox County Historical Society contacted the Family History Library to film estate and other records, the originals of which were still in drawers in the Probate Office and disappearing at an alarming rate.

The old ledgers turned out to be Chattel Mortgage Records books. The ones in the local history room at the library dated from 1914 (Vol 134) through the 1940s. Many volumes were missing. Some had sustained a good deal of water damage and the edges of pages crumbled when touched. I was only interested in the pre-1920 books as most of the Norris ancestors and many of the Thomas ones had left Wilcox County for Selma, Birmingham and points north by that time.

Through Crop Lien records was able to establish that Mama Julia’s family (Jim Thomas, Please Hodges, and Caroline Thomas) all lived on the Hayes Plantation. This is significant because had once heard that Robert Norris was said to have a brother named John Hayes who was White.

The Alabama Archives Wilcox County records finding aid indicated that Chattel Mortgage records dating from 1854 through the early 1900s were held in Montgomery. Will have to get over there ASAP.

No mention of Robert Norris which might mean that either 1) he was such a successful tenant farmer that he never had to borrow a cent or, 2) that he was related to Lee McMillan so was able to farm the land under special circumstances. This is what I’d always heard, i.e., that he enjoyed special privileges because he was related to ‘them.”

Source: Reposted from LiveJournal on 11/8/2011,


A (modest) Success Story — at last!

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By , October 22, 1998 7:55 pm

Whenever someone on the list reports an advance in their research, no matter how minor, I’m so happy for them and encouraged. My own research has been stalled for years but reading about the success of others after similarly long periods of drought keeps me plugging away. I also admit to feeling just a little twinge of envy (along with joy for them) while reading their reports and having to fight the overwhelming urge to abandon what sometimes seems a futile pursuit. That little voice in my head keeps telling me to get a life! (I’m sure y’all know exactly what I mean).

Last week, though, I had a few days to waste so went to Selma, AL to do a some digging in the Dallas and Wilcox County libraries and dragged my dad along hoping that just being in Selma and the Wilcox County countryside would jog his memory and he could fill in some blanks. Dad is 81 but was the baby of his family and have to say that he couldn’t remember very much that I didn’t already know (I think it was probably more frustrating for him than for me). Was also disappointed that his 88 year old cousin who lives in Selma and who had been our guide in the past was suffering health problems that prevented his accompanying us “down to the country” this time. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting much.

But, I’m thrilled to report, I found my g-grandmother’s grave site (which I’ve been seeking for a while) and those of two of her daughters, AND, after all this time, I actually discovered something new that’s set me off in a different (and potentially productive) direction in the search for my paternal ancestors’ slaveholders.

We already knew that ggrandma Caroline’s grave wasn’t in the cemetery of her church, Bethel AME Church in Boiling Spring (Catherine), but was back in the woods someplace. She died in the ’30s and the few relatives who could remember her funeral couldn’t recall exactly how to get to the grave site. What I can’t understand is that NOBODY told us that a wonderful gentleman named Elijah Shaw who’d been superintendent at Bethel for the past 58 years lived on the grounds and knew where EVERYTHING concerning black folk in that part of the county was!

Mr. Shaw took us onto a farm some miles down the road from the church, then a mile or two along a dirt path on the property, through a barbed wire gate (which looked like a solid fence if you didn’t know where the opening was), another half mile or so through tall grass, across a stream, then left then right and a half mile through woods and then up a hill. The little cemetery was at the top!

You should have heard me a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ when after looking around for a while we found a well preserved narrow cement marker partly buried and hidden by weeds that read:

In Memory
Of Sister
Carolion (sic)

Born April
The 8, 1842

Died Aug.
The 19, 1933

My dad dug it out and laid it alongside the larger headstone of one of her daughters (I have mixed feelings about his having moved it but it probably wasn’t originally where we found it anyway).

Afterward, Mr. Shaw took us to another cemetery just over the Marengo County line (who’d a thunk!) and showed us where another of Caroline’s daughters and her whole family were buried (Sidney Chapel AME Zion Church in Consul). Then we visited Boiling Spring Baptist Church down the road from Bethel which was Caroline’s mother and my gggrandmother Mary Jones’ church. She wasn’t buried in the cemetery on the grounds but Mr. Shaw said the church had been moved from its original location when the road we were on was blacktopped and the old dirt road through town fell out of use. He told us that we could find the old site by taking the dirt road through the village of Gastonburg and past the Fluker Pond. Didn’t have time to before nightfall but will on next trip.

While were riding from place to place Mr. Shaw kept up a steady stream of chatter. (And, no, I DID NOT have a tape recorder! Take heed folks: be prepared for anything! My poor daughter was busily scribbling as fast as she could trying to get some of his recollections on paper.) In passing he pointed to a knoll in the distance and mentioned that one of Caroline’s sons had lived in the old “Kelly House” over there. My dad perked up then and said that he remembered that the house was “enormous”. Mr. Shaw added that it was because it was the “big house”. At that point my jaw dropped to my lap and I almost lost control of the car turning to look! But the more I queried him about it, the less he was able to tell me so I just shut up and listened.

My grandmother’s people were named THOMAS, EDWARDS, HODGES and JONES and these were the slaveholders’ names I’d been researching. KELLY! Never would have gone there! Sure enough, back at home, I found white Kellys living cheek by jowl with my ancestors in the 1870 census. Don’t know why I never thought to pursue it before but I will now!

Well, that’s my success story this past week. Even if I come across nothing else for a while these finds are enough to sustain me for a bit. And even though I didn’t bring a tape recorder I did have my camera and took lots of pictures. Had the camcorder too but neither my father or daughter could operate it while I drove!

Have a couple of suggestions for other things to keep in your car “just in case”: a GOOD map of the area — DOT county maps are the best; lots of film and more film; old shoes or sneakers and heavy socks or, better yet, boots; a small shovel, pruning shears and a pair of work gloves; band aids and insect repellant; newsprint and charcoal to make rubbings.

Thanks for indulging me and wishing everyone a Mr. Shaw and some modest successes,

B.J. Smothers

Source: Reposted 6/15/2014 from AfriGeneas List Archives:

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