Say My Name

An African-American Family History

"To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again. . ."

Olmec Proverb


Genealogy is my passion. Since 1996, I have travelled around the United States visiting archives, libraries and relatives to dig up all the information I can find about my ancestors. I can trace my lineage back from my grand nieces and nephews to the 17th century--15 generations!

This site is for sharing information, stories and photos that I have found in my search. "Say My Name" is the title of my findings which was first published in 2003. Instead of trying to distribute it in hard copy, I am making it available online to family members and other interested parties.

Since I first published this page, I have so much more information. Some of that information has proved previous stories incorrect. I am in the process of revising this history and publishing it in print and online. I will not edit this site any longer. However, as soon as I finish updating my data, I will post the new location and publication information on this home page.


The photo  is of Liza Koonce, daughter of Solomon and Cherry, born in the late 1800's.

Another reunion has come and gone. It was like any familygathering -- long time planning, too short experiencing. See you in two years in Tennessee.

2011 Family Reunion

It's 2011. That means it's time for the Koonce Family Reunion. This year it is being hosted by the Indiana clan. It will be held September 2 to 4th in Merrillville and Gary, Indiana. Plans include a tour of Michael Jackson's childhood home, the Chicago lakefront and John Dillinger museum.  We're hoping for a good turnout and a memorable experience.

2009 Koonce Family Reunion

The Koonce Family Reunion of 2009 has come and gone. This year we went back to Tennessee, the home of the patriarch Solomon Koonce and birthplace for many members of the family. Although we were headquartered in Jackson, TN, we travel around the western part of the state, viewing the Koonce family final resting place in Maury City and socializing at Caroly Koonce Nance house in Alamo. Saturday we shared a safari ride at the Tennessee Safari Park (who knew?) in Alamo and on Sunday we worshipped together in Maury City. It was a wonderful time.

The highlight for me, besides visiting the graveyards of both my Koonce and Warren relataives, had to be talking with Alma, the granddaughter of Solomon. At 94, she had a wonderful memory of events and peopled passed. She also had a wonderful spirit. I'm looking forward to seeing her and the rest of the family in 2011.

Back Together Again - New Photos

I have added new photos of the Cotten Brothers--Ammon, Stanley Sr. and Hollis. Through the internet I have gotten to know Benjamin Cotten, grandson of Ammon. He has been a great inspiration and wonderful help. The descendants of these brothers have never come together as a family before. Therefore, one side has never seen photos of Ammon. The other side has never seen Hollis and Stanley. Now they're back together again. Isn't technology wonderful. You can find the photos under "The Cottens."


Inez Koonce Jaycox lived a long and beautiful life. She passed away Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 102 years old. She will be missed but we can't be sad. Her life was a wonderful testimony to her Christian walk. Now I know what my mother will look like at 100.

Retelling the Story- March 2009

The internet spoils me. If I want to know something, I just google it. That works for lots of things but not so much for genealogy. However. . .
I am putting the final touches on the latest edition of "Say My Name" so that I can upload it and publish it as hard copy. I was verifying certain data by looking on Ancestry.Com. I googled a great aunt, Florence Octavia Alexander, to make sure that I had the right name from the census. It led me to a prominent psychologist who was named for my great aunt. That in turn led me to a biography of her great grandfather, my great great grandfather, John Alexander. The interesting thing was that it added a new twist to the oral legend we had heard about him and our great great grandmother Catherine. I am now in the process of corroborating the story. It has pointed me in new and exciting directions. The story is as follows:

          "My grandfather, John was born in Liberia and captured and brought to this country when he was twelve years old. He was a slave on the    Lambright plantation in Virginia. He was sold to the Huffman plantation in Alabama. He married another slave named Catherine (originally from India) on the Huffman plantation. During the Civil War he ran away and worked for the union forces. After the war he returned home and took his wife and children to Mississippi. Because a union officer named Alexander had impressed him he changed the family's name to that of Alexander. He and Cahterine had twelve children, nine sons and three daughters"

There are discrepancies between the story I was told and this story. For one, we were told that Catherine was an Alexander and John took her name. We knew nothing about Liberia or that Catherine could originally be from India. It was also new to me that John fought in the Civil War. Of course, everything must be checked. I have even been able to talk to my newfound cousin Florence. We plan on meeting in the near future. I have a lot of questions for her.  In the meantime, I am checking as much as I can online. As soon as I can financially, I am heading south to look for original documents and records.

New Surname Mystery - Cotten Origin

Thank you to all that visit my website. I hope that it has been helpful in your own journey. I appreciate all the feedback that I get and all the new relatives that I meet.

Today I received an email from Michael Cotten. He is involved in a Cotton/Cotten DNA project. The purpose of the project is to create a database to help identify the various families bearing the Cotton or Cotten surname. I have been sitting on the fence about DNA projects. On the negative side, the  results cannot prove a paper trail. It costs. And it depends on the amount of people in the database. But on the positive side,in the future when the database  is more extensive, it may be more conclusive. And of course, if few participate, the database can't grow. Plus, as it states on the Cotten webpage, it can help to back up research, and a negative result can disprove many incorrect assumptions.

According to Michael, the information I have on the origin of the Cotten name is false. He wrote,  "You mentioned a Cotten family who was descended from a John de Cotentin. Unfortunately there was no such person. The "De Cotentin" descent was invented by a man named Matlock who drew up an extended fake genealogy."

So it seems like it's back to the drawing board. I found a pedigree for Joseph R. Cotten on but the url for the source is Very suspicious! The person who submitted the source went to a lot of trouble but of course, that doesn't mean he is right or legit.

Although I don't believe we are related by blood to the Cottens, I am certain that they are the reason my grandfather chose that name. That is the reason why I am interested in the origin and the genealogy of the Joseph R. Cotten family.

The link to the Cotton/Cotten DNA project is

Eureka! I have Solomon's bill of receipt!

I am so excited, I can hardly contain myself. Through the generosity of another genealogy hobbyist, I have the bill of receipt for Solomon. It states:

"Received of Isaac Koonce five hundred and thirty one dollars for boy Solomon purchased from Nunnís estate & I am to give a bill of sale for ____ boy.

January 6, 18??                Sheppard M. Ashe"

The date has been crossed over. After enlarging it, you can see it was 1839 and then crossed out and written 1840. I think that is because of the newness of the year.  I do it all the time when writing checks at the beginning of the year. Also, I found other abstracts in Tennesse with Sheppard M. Ashe's name. The date on these were 1840. Lastly, it is the date that fits closely with the oral history of Solomon.  It was said he was sold to Isaac Koonce  when Solomon was 19.

Cherokee connection?

According to oral legend, the illusive Amy, mother of Solomon's first children, was a full blooded Cherokee. In a cursory search for information about this, I found that the relationship of Cherokees and slaves in the south was very complex and complicated. I plan to do research on this subject and include it on this site. Hopefully, I will also be able to glean more about Amy.

But Now I'm Found

Besides this site, I blog on "But Now I'm Found, " It chronicles my investigation into more of my family history.  It is not  exclusive to just my family. I post pertinent information concerning the difficult task of researching African-American genealogy. It will also be more timely. I hope you it enjoy also.

Family Names-Updated

Although this family history is mainly for my relatives, it is also a story about the many African-Americans who survived slavery. My family ancestors are Koonce, Brassfield, Warren, Featherston and Roberts of Tennessee and Alexanders, Cottens, Wallace  and Saunders of Mississippi. The counties where my relatives lived were Haywood, Dyer and Crockett in Tennessee and Pike, Lincoln and Amite in Mississippi.

There are more dates and names on my family tree. I will keep updating it when I can.


Surname mystery 12/28/07

Since posting this page, I have met some cousins that I probably never would have met if not for the internet. One of them, Benjamin, has caught the genealogy bug and together we have been looking for more information on our great grandparents. Through him, I discovered that my great grandfather's brother used the surname of Cain. It is a mystery so far why our greats used so many surnames--Cotten, Cotton, Anderson, Deer and now Cain. If anyone has a clue about these relatives, please let me know. More information about the Cottens can be found on the appropriate pages.

Photos from the Koonce Reunion in 2007 at St. Louis, MO

Carolyn Nance is at the podium. I am standing next to my mother, Thelma Cotten. Next to her is Christine, her husband Lovelle Warren, and Ernest Warren, my uncles.

These are the descendants of James Koonce, son of Solomon Koonce, that attended the reunion in St. Louis.

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