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“He got lost,” said Rev. William Major during a Founders Day program in metro Atlanta. “Through genealogy research … he was found. He died in 1981,” Major said.
Major’s remarks were emotionally delivered in honor of the three founders of Phi Beta Sigma during the 2023 Metro Atlanta Founders Day program that included the fraternity’s sister organization, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. The two Black Greek-Letter entities are the only ones constitutionally bound in its founding. Dr. Ann Wead Kimbrough of Good Genes Genealogy Services, Inc. is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Major and Kimbrough
Rev. William Major, left, and Dr. Ann Wead Kimbrough at their Fraternity’s and Sorority’s Founders Day observance in Decatur, GA. (Photo: Provided by Ann Wead Kimbrough)
On Jan. 9, 1914, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Brown, along with A. Langston Taylor and Leonard F. Morse, founded Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Today, the international organization is comprised of more than 150,000 college-educated and professional men, predominantly of African American origin. Since its inception, Phi Beta Sigma has been open to men of all race, religion, class and national origin.
The fantastic search for the Phi Beta Sigma Founder Brown is well documented. What makes the search for Brown remarkable: Full use of available research resources. Flexibility and strategy are the keys to success in genealogy and ancestry research. In one blog, these words are instructive to all researchers:
THE SEARCH FOR CHARLES I. BROWN
The purpose of this blog is to gather information relating to Charles I. Brown. A most honorable founder of Phi Beta Sigma. We by no means claim a patent on the subject, nor are we seeking to upstage those who have done research prior to ours. We are willing to accept any and all help with this project. This is a plea to all brothers if you have any information, be it rumor, gossip or speculation please post it here.
That is valuable content within the search-for-Brown blog:
Founder Brown is said to have been born in Topeka, Kansas in 1890. Census records show that his father was Rev. John M. Brown and that his mother was Maggie M. Brown. However, records at Howard University from 1910 have Founder Brown living at 1813 Titan Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was very cordial and very popular with the student body and Howard University Administration. He is credited with choosing the 9 charter members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. Founder Brown founded the Delta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, on April 9, 1917, and through oral interviews was a teacher at the Kansas Industrial School for Negroes in Topeka, Kansas.
Census records and oral interviews have showed us that Founder Brown was alive in the Topeka, Kansas area until 1931. Some believe that he was a casualty of the First World War; others believe that he moved.
While there are several aspects of Brown’s life that has not yet been fully restored, it is heartening to known that his remains were claimed by his beloved fraternity and he was given a proper memorial service. His legacy is worth reading.
CHARLES I. BROWN August 27, 1885 – December 21, 1981
Ann of the Good Genes Genealogy Services team began her interest in family genealogy at the age of 10. After asking her mother and paternal grandfather separate questions about their childhoods, siblings, families and more, Ann did not receive the replies she expected. In both cases, I could hear crickets (old schoolers will get the reference).
Black Genealogy research requires attention to obits, homegoings and surviving family members
Camden, Tenn. – About 340 miles northwest of Atlanta, lies a small community with a big heart that was originally named “Tranquility.” The community counted as one of its more than 3,000 residents a special lady, Delia Mae Tharpe, mother of Dr. Jack L. Bomar, Executive Bishop/Senior Pastor of Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center.
Ms. Delia, as many called her, was funeralized on the third Saturday of January admist a mountainous cool afternoon. It would have been an ordinary “homegoing” service, except Ms. Delia was anything but ordinary. Her extraordinary life on earth for 81 years is one for the history books. I barely knew Ms. Delia, meeting her perhaps once. Yet, nearly 55 persons, including my mother, Angeline Wead and me, traveled five hours each way to share with hundreds of others to celebrate the life of this lady.
What caused us to travel early on Saturday morning and return late that evening, is what I will share later in this blog.
Delia Mae Tharpe, September 28, 1941 – January 14, 2023
Just one day earlier, was the funeral for my maternal cousin, M. Madeline Wilks Matthews, who I’ve known all of my life. Her service took place in St. Louis, Missouri. My mother was the eldest cousin to Madeline. I was asked to write her obituary, which was delivered to her church secretary with all the love and care that I could deliver. Madeline was a bright light who was on this earth 93 years.
Margaret Madeline Wilks Matthews, Aug. 30, 1929 – January 7, 2023
The lives of Madeline and Ms. Delia were different and yet there were a few similarities. Both ladies lived full lives, sang in their church choirs, held many positions in church leadership, and each worked more than four decades in their respective fields. Madeline did not have children; while Ms. Delia bore nine children and had many grandchildren. Madeline was active in politics and in her retirement years, she gained additional education and served as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional in special education.
In short, I am proud of Madeline’s accomplishments that began in her college prep Omaha Central High School years where she excelled in academics, music, other creative endeavors, and as student government leader. As a young high school graduate, she was denied employment in her hometown because she was Black. That’s why she ventured south of Nebraska to Missouri where she lived the next nearly 80 years and endured the sadly typical ups and downs of trailblazing, independent thinking and working women.
Ms. Delia’s life couldn’t have been easy by usual, societal measures. She was a “dedicated and hard worker for more than forty-three years at Henry I. Siegel, ‘the H.I.S. factory’ in Bruceton, TN as a press operator,” according to her obituary. She bore nine children and raised them in humble conditions with such love, leadership and purpose as shared with laughter, sympathy tears and memorable message.
Her life was inspiring as experienced by hundreds in the near standing room-only chapel where the roomful of upright flower displays served as fragrant reminders of the depth of her influence in this hamlet of about 3,000 residents within 5.7 square miles of the Tennessee hills.
So impactful was Ms. Delia’s life that a young lady who was seated behind me said that she attended the service even though she lived in the area, yet did not know Ms. Delia “that well.” Eula Eikerenkoetter, widow of the late, popular minister, “Rev. Ike,” was there. So were several messages of condolences in the form of proclamations and recognitions that included many Atlanta City Councilmembers.
A guide for genealogy researchers
Family genealogists can learn many lessons from our new ancestors while honoring their time on this earth and their vibrant spirits. The obituaries, the services are the beginning of sharing the legacies of the families. Usually, many blanks are filled in that often break through the typical brick walls found in Black ancestry pursuits.
Ensure the obituaries are well-researched and well written. Many eyes are on the obituaries. Besides family and friends, other entities utilize the information for legal, government, insurance, retirement, military (if applicable), social and community purposes.
The best way to achieve the best written obituaries is through preparation that is based on accurate written and oral information.
When written and oral background is provided for the deceased loved one, engage at least one friend or family member to edit and fact-check. This is not the time to worry about whether anyone has hurt feelings about fact-checking another’s input. This is about getting things right for the legacy of the individual and accuracy for larger purposes.
The way the services are rendered are usually the best examples of how persons lived. Take notes.
During the service, the songs that are sung, the scriptures that are read and the officiants are all indications of the best parts of the deceased lives.
Meet the persons who spoke at the services. At minimal, offer condolences to them as well as the family members. As a maximum benefit for the family researcher, politely seek more information from the individuals either after the service or another time.
The burial or final resting places provide additional insight into family histories. My cousin, Mark S. Owen, partner in Good Genes Genealogy Services, often teases me that I am fixed on cemeteries and death certificates. It is for good reason. There are details such as health information and other bits of information that can benefit the living from the official documents. At cemeteries, I walk the grounds, especially if the recent ancestors are placed in family plots. There are often other clues about our extended families and friends based on surnames and first names found on the cemetery markers.
After receiving new and/or best information, please record and update family records. Family members deserve vibrant and verified information. Studies show the positive mental and spiritual health benefits from individuals learning more about loved ones.
Step back a few times during this process and reflect on how you feel during the process. Often Mark and I take time to release and “breathe” to ensure that our emotional health is intact. Researching, updating and engaging in this process is sometimes taxing for individuals.
Celebrate the lives of our ancestors. They deserve our respect, understanding and accurate depictions of their lives.
This worksheet is different from the family tree form that was recommended on this site via our post on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. Both forms — the family tree and individual family worksheets — provide a great start to the New Year.
The hour allotted for the tour was not enough time for all of the stories about accomplished Black women who are buried in Oakland Cemetery. Yet, the Black Magnolias tour was a refreshing collection of insight into the lives of Black women who were quiet and major influencers in the Atlanta region, Georgia and nationwide. Along the multiple paths laden mostly with bricks from days gone by, there were periodic stops at the chosen grave sites of many women who were doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, educators and skilled technicians.
The Black Magnolias story at Oakland Center is grounded in the fortitude of laundry or washerwomen whose citywide protest resulted in violence, arrests, intimidation and ultimately, a major victory for the Black women who refused to return to work unless their financial and work life demands were met. Their well-organized strike involved some 3,000 Black laundresses and it nearly imperiled the 1881 World’s Fair in Atlanta.
While praising the domestic workers’ brave and labor market altering stance, Hurse strategically showcased other Black women whose legacies are integral to the success of the Atlanta area, Georgia and the nation. Despite the achievements that stretch beyond racial and geographical boundaries, most of the 12,000 African Americans — including approximately 1,800 slaves — are buried at Oakland in segregated sections known as the African American, Slave and Potters sections.
There are also exceptions to the burial rules of segregating whites, Blacks and Jewish deceased persons from one another. When whites sought permissions to move the burial area initially designated for Black slaves, the graves were moved to the back of the cemetery. Some natural markers such as stones and sticks were not preserved. When that relocation was completed, some families such as the Boylstons asked for an additional set of permissions and that was to bury their “domestic worker,” Catherine Holmes, alongside their family members, according to Hurse. Elise Boylston had a special fondness for “Caty” and the young Boylston lady authored work that included her slave. By the 1960s, Blacks were not segregated to one area or two areas of the cemetery
The grave marker for “Caty” Holmes, a “domestic worker” in the Boylston household, is left. This is a partial view of the extensive Boylston plot in the former Slave section of Oakland Cemetery.
A dozen other Black Magnolias were pointed out by Hurse as significant based on a range of qualities such as the first Black lady buried in Oakland Cemetery, to the sisters who established the first hospital with 15 beds that was available to Black patients.
Below is the grave site of Estella Henderson was an attorney, an author of books on race relations and was recognized by U.S. President William Howard Taft. Her sister, Dr. Blanche Beatrice Bowman Thompson, was a doctor whose practice pioneered specialty work for Black medical professionals in Georgia.
Future blogs will highlight the historical women of Oakland Cemetery. For those interested in the many stories of the Black men and women buried in Oakland Cemetery, the virtual tour is found through this service:
Good Genes Genealogy Services encourages readers of this blog to investigate similar historical stories in cemeteries that bear great stories such as those found at the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
The 48-acre cemetery that is also considered a city park. The Oakland Cemetery Foundation conducts several tours each year, including a handful devoted to honoring Black history and women’s history.
Join genealogist Bernice A. Bennett who will uncover the stories of African American families who became landowners through the Homestead Act of 1862 from her latest book Black Homesteaders of the South. Bennett’s work is a modern story of black genealogists who networked through a Facebook page to trace the footsteps of their ancestors in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana & Mississippi. Find out how these families navigated the application process through the federal government, and what this legacy means for their descendants today. Bernice Alexander Bennett is an award-winning author, genealogist and host of Research at the National Archives & Beyond BlogTalkRadio program. Her genealogical interests focus on Southeast Louisiana and Edgefield and Greenwood Counties, South Carolina. Bennett is an author and contributor to 2 award winning genealogy books including Our Ancestors, Our Stories and Tracing Their Steps: A Memoir. A New Orleans native, Bennett is a volunteer with the Homestead National Historical Park Service identifying descendants of Black homesteaders to share their stories.
First Kwanzaa December 26, 1966,Photo donated to BBC by Terri Bandele, pictured on right.
“What do the Africans do?” That is the question asked by a then-young girl, 11-year-old Terri Bandele, who was among the first families celebrating the first Kwanzaa celebration from Dec. 26, 1966 – Jan. 1, 1967. Her question and the organized determination of Dr. Maulana Karenga, Bandele’s parents and others, led to the creation of Kwanzaa, the pan-African and African American holiday that honors the “matunda ya kwanza” that means “first fruits” in Swahili.
Kwanzaa arrives December 26th — the day after the traditional Christmas Day — and culminates January 1st. It does not compete or replace any holiday, according to Dr. Karenga and many organizers. Nor does it compete with a longstanding January 1st celebration for U.S. Blacks and that is Jubilee Day.
Central to Kwanzaa’s purpose is its celebration among family, friends and communities. Today, millions celebrate Kwanzaa and its seven strong principles:
Unity:Umoja (oo–MO–jah)To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
At Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center, Executive Bishop/Senior Pastor, Dr. Jack Bomar, led the church celebration on Jan. 1, 2023, in honor of Kwanzaa’s final day. “We are gathered to celebrate our heritage and honor the spirit our ancestors,” said Bomar while pointing out the symbolic “first fruits” placed on the tables in the church’s smaller chapel. The King Chapel as it is known in honor of the church’s founder, Dr. Barbara Lewis King, was filled to capacity.
Hillside International Truth Center’s Kwanzaa celebration with first fruits, elders in prayer.
Jubilee Day. It began as a tradition of celebration on New Year’s Day 1863.
Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
The U.S. Government produced a booklet in December 1862 and it was ordered to be distributed by Union Soldiers to Blacks. It speaks of slavery as the “cornerstone” of tragedy.
Nearly two centuries ago, the historical depiction showcases the “jubilee” former slaves felt after their freedom was granted through the presidential act.
The Good Genes Genealogy team share maternal grandmothers. We benefited from tasty treats and meals from our Great-Grandmother Edna Wilkes Robinson, and equally great dinners and gatherings at the home of her daughter, our Grandmother Helen Wilkes Owen Douthy.
Grandmother Robinson, third from right
In honor of the New Year, our thoughts and gratitude are in honor of both grandmothers’ traditional dishes of “hot water” corn bread, black-eyed peas, mixed greens, ham, goose or another poultry item, and the best desserts.
Yet, it was Grandmother Robinson’s chosen profession as a cook in some of Omaha Nebraska’s nicer hotels and in the white households that brings forth an added reference during this time of year. She rarely spoke of her work outside of her home or what we could witness each week at our home church, Clair United Methodist Church. There, Grandmother Robinson “owned” the massive kitchen that was equipped with multiple ovens with large enough spaces to cook meals for the entire church families and members of our near northside Omaha community.
Grandma Robinson had great command of everything from recipes to the table setting etiquette. Often, she would bring in the perfectly ironed and folded table cloths for coverings on the main table for our pastor, his family and special guests, as well as the families whose children would often leave red stains from spilled sweet punch that often was laden with thin pineapple chunks and ice cream.
From Grandma Robinson, I learned the term “soul food” that was derived from the slave households where leftovers — food often discarded — made it to the tables where pig feet, ears, cow brains, hogshead cheese, chitterlings and other scraps were the main dishes. Grandma Robinson never spoke of slavery or Africa while cooking her delicious and abundant dishes. However, her references to foods such as sweet potatoes, corn meal and other grains that were beaten into powdered substances and mashed into its finery, were clear references to the cooking styles of African families and Black slave heritages.
To the lady who taught us how to fold napkins and where to place them on the table, how to use a ladle to dip the right amount of punch into the crystal etched cups, how to serve others at the kitchen window or at the covered folding tables, thank you. To the lady who taught us how to anticipate when the hot rolls were done in ovens where the temperature and alarm gauges did not always work, how to best wash the dishes and dry them and replace them in the proper way, thank you. To the charming little lady who often wore her cooking apron, thank you for teaching me how to make coffee, tea and how to shine those beautiful silver pots.
Thank you, Great Grandmother Edna Wilkes Robinson’s hands, from our family.
We are sure that you have similar stories. Share them.
However, a s U.S. slavery endured, there have been many accounts and visual depictions of our enslaved Black ancestors celebrating the Christmas season. However, deeper research reveals that the enslaved ancestors were actually more concerned about being separated from their families on plantations, than experiencing the joy of the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth.
The great and brave ancestor, Harriet Tubman, chose Christmas 1854 to lead the way for her brothers, Ben, Henry and Robert, to escape their enslaved conditions. Later, she brought her parents out of the similar situations.
Henry Bibb was born a slave in Kentucky in 1815. He recounts his sufferings, escapes, recaptures, and unsuccessful attempts to free his family. Bibb lectured for the Liberty party in Ohio and Michigan during the 1840s and fled to Canada after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, as did thousands of other fugitives living in the North. His narrative includes many illustrations, including the depiction of the celebration of the Sabbath among the slaves and a slave sale.In the text Bibb mentions that “slaves were not allowed books, pen, ink, nor paper, to improve their minds.” He stated that such circumstances gave him a “longing desire . . . a fire of liberty within my breast which has never yet been quenched.” Bibb believed that he too had “a right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
We are movie buffs. We love to watch holiday movies, especially the ones we used to watch with our families. We are also avid readers and there are historical holiday stories that we recall listening to and reading with our families.
Listed below are a few hard-to-find or ‘never knew’ existed entries to your holiday media consumption about and for African Americans. While these entries focus on Christmas, upcoming blogs from Good Genes Genealogy Services.
A Dream Set for Christmas. It debuted on Christmas Eve, 1973. Here’s the synopsis from YouTube: Created by Earl Hamner, “A Dream for Christmas” is set in the 1950s. African-American minister Will Douglas (Hari Rhodes) moves his family from Arkansas to the Watts section of Los Angeles to take charge of an impoverished church. The attendance, at least at first, is as poor as the congregation. Worse still, the church is slated to be demolished. But it’s close to Christmas, a time when miracles have been known to happen. “A Dream for Christmas” originally aired on December 24, 1973. It was originally designed as the pilot for a never-sold TV series titled The Douglas Family. The hope here was for writer Earl Hamner to repeat his success with “The Waltons.”
“The First Christmas.” Written by a young, pioneering Black journalist Ora Mae Lewis Martin. She knew four languages. Her short story, “The First Christmas,” was published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1927, the city’s largest newspaper.
The Wiz. In 1978, a film debuted that has been a favorite around the holidays. From Bizaar magazine’s freelance writer Deanna Janes on Oct. 10, 2022: “The Wiz is an offshoot of The Wizard of Oz and stars an all-Black cast. And though its technical designation is “fantasy film,” the charm and allure of Sidney Lumet’s 1978 classic has solidified it as a celebrated holiday event for families across the country. A cast including the legendary Diana Ross, Lena Horne, and Mabel King will do that.”
Please add your historical Christmas stories, books, audio recordings and videos and allow all of us to get into the holiday spirit.
The best gifts we can give to our family members are the ones that record our histories.
From the Ann Wead Kimbrough collection
Recently, a church member told me that her father’s wife has placed all of his legacy possessions in storage. Since his death, this church member said she has not had access to her father’s belongings, especially the family Bible.
“Did it have the births of your ancestors in it,” I asked her.
She answered in the affirmative. I knew that she needed to gain possession of that family Bible to gain the answers she has long sought in her quest to uncover the mysteries of the family she deemed fragmented due to her father’s multiple children born from different mothers. This church member has established great relationships with her siblings and has been seeking their cooperation in recording the family history.
In place of the family Bible, I recommended electronic searches of the family members and also hard cover solutions in the form of books such the ones displayed in this blog.
Start somewhere. It will help to make the season brighter to record remembrances of our cherished ancestors.
This December 1963 photo unlocked a few mysteries about our maternal grandmother
Often the Good Genes Genealogy Services team will encourage our fellow ancestry history seekers to review your family documents, spaces such as attics and garages, and other artifacts for clues to our family history.
We used our advice.
Searching through our grandmother’s boxes, we found cool materials that revealed brand new information about her job title at the United States’ only military air command headquarters.
Give yourself a present from the past. Happy searching!
Seated left, “Mama” Helen Wilks Owen Douthy — maternal grandmother of the Good Genes Genealogy Services team — was 45 years old when this photo was taken. She was a cast member and costume staff member of the Omaha, Nebr.-based The Repertory Players. She is pictured here as they celebrated the wrap of their play, “Antigone.” Antigone is a classic Greek tragedy story about “man’s relationship to man, to the state, and to the gods.” It is worth reading and viewing the drama that tells of the cruel fate inflicted upon the deceased King Oedipus.
The above find was hidden in one of many scrapbooks of our Mama Helen. For the first time, we learned that her title at the Strategic Air Command’s Offutt Air Force Base was as a weapon systems division secretary. The article was published in the SAC newsletter. Recently, we confirmed that Mama Helen was indeed a “Hidden Figure,” much like the ladies depicted in the award-winning non-fiction work.
This paper ticket shares much about Mama Helen’s resolve to be true to her passion of serving in the theatre. She was still serving as a secretary for a major SAC official and her work location was about 32 miles from Mama Helen’s home. The show began at 8:30 p.m. on five Sundays through December 1963. Mama Helen arrived home late and had to rise early to report to work by 8 a.m. She never had a driver’s license and did not drive. She depended on shared transportation. During the winter months, the likely icy and snowy roads were a bit dangerous, yet our “Hidden Figure” always accomplished her mission to work on the government’s secret work assignments.
This is a blast from the past: telegrams! It was a chic thing to send to anyone in 1963 as it meant that they paid $$s to deliver a message to intended receivers in record time. The telegram preceded today’s email system.
Bravo! Mama Helen was a cast member and helped to design and create the costumes. As children, we would often encounter various costumes for plays that were prepped in Mama Helen’s basement sewing cave.
“When I was a child, I remember my grandmother giving each of her grandchildren a large candy cane and $5 in an envelope. It didn’t matter how young or old we were, we all waited for and loved getting this gift at Christmas,” said Veverly Byrd-Davis of her grandmother who is now one of our ancestors.
Christmas traditions. The Good Genes Genealogy team recalls each Christmas receiving an orange or clementine, an apple, candy cane and bits of other candy in a small brown paper bag from our great-grandmother, Edna Robinson. Our dear ancestor made sure that each grandchild and children participating in the annual Christmas Eve pageant received the humble gift bags. It was a tradition born from the blend of African, European and indigenous Americans’ traditions.
In Rwanda, African, a Christmas tree ornament honors the “first fruits” tradition of offering the food to symbolize the annual rich harvest. We hang the ornament — a handmade, miniature basket — on our Christmas tree to symbolize the African tradition.
Deeply rooted Christmas traditions
Slaves, the St. Nicholas traditions, the Great Depression and the Black churches all have a common bond related to the presenting of so-called Christmas fruit bags.
Share your Christmas memories
The Good Genes Genealogy team asks that you share your memories of holiday gifts. You may place them in this post and/or make them a part of your holiday discussions with family and friends.
The Good Genes Genealogy team is honored to offer free or very low cost services to our clients. To keep our costs free for great consultations and other research, check out our Cyber Monday e-books. Check us out on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lulu Publishing.
Thank you. We are grateful for our blog readers, social media fam and all clients.
We are thankful that you are a member of our genealogy family. To show our gratitude, the Good Genes Genealogy Services team is offering our November 2021 ebook, Family Ties That Bind, to you at a Black Friday 2022 rate.
Are you one-fourth or one-eighth African? The U.S. Census wanted to know
There’s a knock on the door. It’s Monday, June 2, 1890, the first day the U.S. Census takers began their monthlong gathering of data that would provide unique, one-time information forever etched in our historical documents. The questioner posed several questions to the household representative. Among those worth noting was the following:
Question #4 ask whether the races of the household inhabitants are “white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese or Indian.” The Census questioner could no longer look at the household and answer the question. It was up to the household member to self-disclose the information. It was the first and last time that the “quadroon and octoroon” race descriptions were asked on Census documentations.
According to a National Public Radio report, “the government concluded: “These figures are of little value.” “Quadroon” and “octoroon” have never been used again for the census.”
Alabama voters head to the polls next week for the midterm elections. One ballot item would abolish slavery in the state. The vote takes place one hundred and fifty seven years after the thirteenth amendment ended the practice nationally. Historians say many of the estimated four hundred thousand enslaved people, who were freed in 1865, chose to live out their lives in Alabama. APR spoke to some of their descendants who say they’re still dealing with the impact of the slave trade. The Alabama Public Radio newsroom spent nine months investigating one aspect of that. Namely, the effort to preserve slave cemeteries in the state. APR’s documentary is titled “No Stone Unturned.”
“I got all my equipment in the back of the Honda CRV. How’s that for efficiency and good engineering?” asked Len Strozier during a quiet morning in a wooded area on the Black Warrior River, north of Tuscaloosa. He’s getting ready to go to work.
“It all scissors out like that,” he said. The scissoring refers to a collapsible rig about the size of a grocery store shopping cart. It has big black wheels, a box on top with buttons and a small view screen. There’s another box down below.
“Alright, this is ground penetrating radar machine. This is two GPS machines,” said Strozier.
A radar antenna that looks for airplanes typically points up. Strozier’s antenna looks down. What interests him lies underground…
It’s just a matter of putting it together,” quips Strozier. He uses his equipment to scan for things like buried water pipes that are leaking. That’s about thirty percent of what he does. Today is how he spends most of his time.
He’s looking for bodies.
“Just walking around, and there’s one right there. That’s a casketed burial,” said Strozier after working less than a minute. “Right now, I see an air pocket where a body was buried in the ground. As the body is placed in the ground. If it’s not embalmed, or protected with a vault, it all breaks down, It degrades…decomposes—including the wooden casket,” he observed.
Strozier runs Omega Mapping Services in Fortson, Georgia. APR news invited him to scan this two acre spot near Tuscaloosa. We’re at the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery. It was set up in the 1820’s by John Welch Prewitt, a local plantation owner. The one unmarked grave Strozier found was just for starter. A more complete total came later.
“In less than thirty minutes, forty. Just walking around. I’ve seen forty burials out here,” said Strozier.
There’s a handful of tombstones and plain burial markers at Old Prewitt. Nowhere close to the number of graves Strozier found. This isn’t just an issue involving the dead. There are the living as well.
“My father drove us there,” said Patricia Kemp. “I was probably…maybe I want to say six or seven. Then, he’d drive to a place and he’d tell us what it is, or who they were. So, that’s what I remember.”
As an adult, Kemp did some research and she thinks some of her ancestors are buried at the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery. By that time, the burial yard was disappearing as trees and scrub brush took over. At one point, Alabama listed Old Prewitt as one of the state’s most endangered places.
“Knowing that that cemetery is there, and it is just dwindling away, it’s just being washed away. It’s just thrown away,” said Kemp. “It’s like taking my grandfather, my great grandfather, or father or my mother and knowing that they’re buried there, and just trashing them.”
Old Prewitt isn’t the only slave cemetery in Alabama.
Researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville say up to two hundred slaves rest here, at the Mount Paran Cemetery just south of the Tennessee border. That doesn’t count the estimated ten thousand enslaved people believed to be buried nearby in Huntsville.
“I was able to find my great great grandfather listed,” said Ollie Ballard. She thinks that ancestor was one of them. He was enslaved in Huntsville in 1842.
“He was on the Longwood Plantation,” she said. “And, we found his name, and then his son’s name…Caswell, and Caswell, junior. And, we were able to follow him to his death.”
But, that doesn’t mean Ballard can visit her great, great grandfather’s grave site. She’s not sure where that is. There are oral histories told by family members and the few records Ballard could find– but that’s all. And if you’ve never heard a story like that before, we met someone who has.
“All the time, all the time. That is…that is…one of the most outrageous,” said Ethel Alexander. She’s with the Birmingham African American Genealogy Group, the largest of its kind in the state. She says even if family members find the cemetery where their enslaved ancestors are buried, questions often remain
“They may not see anything but a rock,” Alexander observed. “They may not see nothing but tree. You know, you’re not going to be to say ‘oh, there’s my grandfather…great, great, great slave.’”
Back at the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery in Northport, Alabama– Len Strozier has been doing some thinking. His preliminary scan with ground penetrating radar showed forty unmarked graves. So, now he’s ready to make an educated guess about what he calls unmarks.
“I would say there would be at least two hundred unmarks, in this acre and a half, at least that, without a doubt,” said Strozier.
Each of these unknown burial sites can represent a mystery to a family somewhere. But, you don’t have to have an ancestor buried at Old Prewitt to be involved. For example…Tuscaloosa native and former world heavyweight boxing championship Deontay Wilder.
The parking lot at the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission is especially busy today. Onlookers form a ring around a life sized bronze statue, still covered with a black tarp. The chatter seems divided between the art work and the man who posed for it.
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder is from Tuscaloosa. He still lives here. Wilder made the rounds in the VIP room just before the statue in his honor was to be unveiled. Some fans talked about his five years as champ. Others focused on his ninety three percent knockout rate. APR news was there for something else.
“To go down there, you can like feel the energy and the power of it,” said Wilder.
During a quiet moment, Wilder talked about visiting the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery. It wasn’t a long trip. Wilder lives almost next door to the burial site. He says he didn’t know about it when he moved in his new home in Northport. But, he soon did.
“You know how when you move into an area, and the neighbors come and greet you with pies and cakes,” said Wilder.
Instead of dessert, Wilder’s neighbors brought something else
“For me, I got greeted with important information. I got greeted with historic information and stuff like that,” recalled Wilder.
That included stories about Civil War plantation owner John Welch Prewitt and the slave cemetery he set up in Northport in the 1820’s.
“It’s amazing to know that I have an untended graveyard, I literally mean on the side of me. It doesn’t spook me out or nothing like that,” he said.
“I don’t know that a whole lot else stands out about him as except as a slave holder and a plantation owner,” said Doctor Joshua Rothman, of John Welch Prewitt. “Other than that, he’s a very wealthy man and kind of the late antebellum period.”
Rothman is head of the history department at the University of Alabama. His area of expertise is slavery. And, he’s heard his share of stories about Prewitt, including the whoppers.
“So the two that I’ve heard the most are that he enslaved 1000 people, and was the biggest slave holder in Tuscaloosa County. And there’s another story about there being like bars of gold buried on his property,” recalled Rothman.
Rothman says he’s not sure one way or the other about the gold, but the slave count was more like one hundred and fifty, not a thousand.
“What’s weird is that it’s a story people told them they like, but you can look at the census. And you can see it’s not true,” he said.
And if that’s not enough…
“There’s also the tale of a ghost walking on the site of the former home of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Prewitt,” read Allison Hetzel, of the University of Alabama’s Theatre Department. This story comes from the Alabama state archives. It’s from a folder marked “negro folklore.”
“Mrs. Prewitt, affectionately known as “Miss Betsy,” by the negroes, would visit the cabins with simple remedies when any of the slaves were ailing. It is claimed that Miss Betsy still walks on rainy nights, basket on arm. That story being shared by many of the better educated white farmers,” read Hetzell.
“If you tell yourself that story, and you genuinely believe it, then what is there to feel guilty about?” suggested Joshua Rothman.
“It’s not a secret, for example, that there are a lot of stories that are have been told by white Southerners, over the course of many generations, trying to make slavery seem far less bad. And that’s a very different kind of story than descendants of enslaved people are likely to tell,” he said.
And telling that story can be difficult. That’s because whites also kept the records. For the families and volunteers trying to preserve slave cemeteries or find the graves of lost relatives, that’s often where the trail goes cold.
Back at the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports commission, everybody crowds around for the unveiling of Deontay Wilder’s statue…
“It was a treat,” said the champ. Wilder wasn’t referring to letting the crowd see his statue. But, rather the powerful experience of visiting the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery.
“To understand and know where you are, and what you’re setting your feet on, and what occurred in certain times of the years, that you don’t nothing about,” Wilder said.
Wilder says he’s also ready to help out when it comes preserving Old Prewitt. Not everyone can call on a celebrity to do that. Most of the work to rescue slave burial sites is done by African American families or volunteers. And, their effort apparently faces obstacles not shared by their white neighbors.
It’s check-in time at the Methodist Church in New Market’ Alabama, near the Tennessee border. The paperwork is being done at table one. Volunteers at table two are handing out sausage biscuits. There was also a side order of personal stories…
“I was able to find my great great grandfather,” said Olley Ballard from Huntsville. “He was on the Longwood Plantation. And, we found his name, and then his son’s name…Caswell, and Caswell, junior. And, we were able to follow him to his death.”
Ballard is hoping to find answers here today. She’s among one hundred people attending the twentieth annual workshop of the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance.
Ballard says her great great grandfather was enslaved in Huntsville in 1842. The issue that brought her here today isn’t who he is, but rather where he is now.
“I’m so glad you asked that question,” she said. “Because he was on the Longwood Plantation. And so, I’m thinking, and based on what my forefathers said to me. That more than likely that my great great grandfather was on that plantation.”
And that’s possibly where he’s buried.
Today’s workshop featured speakers on cleaning tombstones and repairing cemetery gates. Ballard is one of only two African Americans in the audience. It’s not grave markers or gates that she came to talk about. Ballard is still working to find her great great grandfather’s burial site. We met someone who’s heard a lot of stories like that…
“All the time, all the time. That is…that is…it was one of the most outrageous,” said Ethel Alexander. She didn’t attend the cemetery workshop. We sat down with her at her home near Birmingham where she went through notebooks on her own family tree.
Alexander is past President of the Birmingham African American Genealogy Group. It’s the largest organization of its kind in the state.
‘ We weren’t really human beings. We were chattle…c.h.a.t.t.l.e,” she observed.
Alexander is referring to the lack of records on kidnapped Africans. The U.S. Archives says the first census that counted former slaves as people was in 1870. Alexander says, before that, most records were bills of sale…
“Say for instance, a planter, he dies, and they have to sell everything,” said Alexander. “The first thing they sell are their slaves, and they were sold before the animals. So we didn’t really have first names except the first names they would give you.”
You heard about Olley Ballard and her effort to find her great great grandfather’s burial site in Huntsville. Ethel Alexander says even if Ballard finds the slave cemetery she’s looking for, she may face another problem…
“They may not see anything but a rock. They may not see nothing but tree. You know, you’re not going to be to say ‘oh, there’s my grandfather…great, great, great slave,” said Alexander.
Back at the workshop of the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance, Rusty Brenner is at work. He sells a spray called D-2. It’s used to clean tombstones. Olley Ballard’s great great grandfather may not have a burial marker of his own, but she says his life is still worth remembering
“They were landowners,” said Ballard. “Even though he was enslaved person in 1842, but 1903 he and wife owned one hundred and sixty acres of land. So, I’m proud and I want to pass it along generation to generation.”
And Ballard has a plan to do that, whether she finds his grave site or not.
“At presently, I’m working with the city of Huntsville and a group to erect a memorial that honors the enslaved people in Huntsville,” she said. “We have approximately fifteen thousand slaves and slaveholders, but we don’t have a grant.”
Money is an issue that comes up a lot on preserving slave burial sites. Some cemeteries only need upkeep. Slave burial grounds often need something like archeology to identity who’s there. Ballard says she hasn’t had much luck finding money for that.
“Many of the grants want you to preserve something,” Ballard noted. “Well, you now we’re looking to preserve words and where they used to be. They’re looking for buildings.”
That situation may be changing, slowly….
Members of Congress are considering what’s known as the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act.
“There are so many sites in Alabama that are known and unknown,” said Alabama Democrat Terri Sewell. She’s a co-sponsor of the U.S. House version of that bill. The measure would enable the U.S. Park Service to create a burial site network. Sewell says it would also provide grants.
“Hopefully, we can speed up the clean-up, but also really direct people on how about doing the historical investigation on the amazing people who are buried there,” said Sewell.
Having a good idea is one thing. But, the burial site legislation has been in committee for three years. It was just was re-introduced back in February. Sewell says there’s nothing wrong with the bill itself.
“No, it was just technical issues about the partnership between the National Park Service and the network, and some very important provisions I wanted to flesh out when it comes to the grants,” Sewell contended.
But, until a final vote is made in Congress, the descendants of slaves and newly freed blacks can only wait. Back at the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance workshop, it’s time for the door prizes. Winners with the lucky numbers pick from items including a tombstone cleaning kit.
Even if Congress passes the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act, Olley Ballard may not get the one thing she’s looking for—the exact location of her great great grandfather’s gravesite in Huntsville.
“I know like to know that, definitely that this is location of Longwood Plantation. I would like to walk the grounds, touch the soil, and feel the presence of my ancestors. I would love to do that,” said Ballard.
And feelings like that are shared by others. Not just in Alabama, and not just in the south.
That wasn’t the only story Ballard told that day. Huntsville had a cemetery for slaves and newly freed people. That land was sold to the city. Ballard says it got lost in the fine print.
“And so, they had a stipulation in the deed that the colored cemetery must be protected, but it was not protected,” she said. Huntsville built a parking deck on that spot. APR heard a similar story with a different ending..
“So what happened was they were trying to widen this road Foothill Road in Bridgewater,” said Lorayn Allen.
“And the contractor looked up, and he says, Oh, my God, he said, there’s a cemetery up here,” she recalled. “He says, ‘I think it’s a slave cemetery.’ I don’t know how he knew it, he just knew it.”
Allen’s slave cemetery isn’t in Alabama. It’s not even in the south. In fact, to talk with her about it, I had to fly coach. Bridgewater, New Jersey is about a half hour southwest of Newark Liberty International Airport. It’s here that we found the Prince Rodgers Slave cemetery. It’s wedged between two suburban homes on Foothill Road.
“Prince Rodgers was an amazing human being who was born here in 1815,” said Lorayn Allen. “His parents were literally kidnapped by the Dutch and brought here for free labor.”
Allen formed a foundation to preserve the Bridgewater burial site. Raising money to preserve this slave cemetery is only part of that battle. The other is convincing her own grandchildren that slavery existed in New Jersey.
“They call me Mimi,” said Allen. They say ‘Mimi, for God’s sake, we live in Somerfield, New Jersey.’ I say, do you realize they still have Ku Klux Klan ramblings in certain areas over here? Everything that happened in the South happened here in the North. Make no mistake about it.”
Historians say eleven thousand enslaved Africans were in New Jersey at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The number grew from there.
“Um, but we’re looking about 12 and a half thousand in the year 1800, and about 80% of, um, Africans and African Americans in New Jersey at that point are in slavery,” said Doctor Jesse Bayker. He teaches at Rutgers University. Specifically, Bayker is with the Scarlet and Black Research Center. It focuses on racism against African Americans. New Jersey residents are often surprised when they hear about slavery in the Garden State. Bayker says one group in particular.
“When I talk to African Americans in New Jersey who are not fully aware of the depth of the history of slavery in this state, they are often upset that they haven’t learned it earlier, um, that they have been told, uh, their whole lives, that this was a Southern problem, but that New Jersey wasn’t like that, um, it shifts their perspective of their own home state,” stated Bayker. He says slavery in northern states has been talked about in academic circles for almost a century. But, it’s only been studied seriously since the 1990’s.
“Now it’s the question of, um, making sure that that trickle goes down to things like high school textbooks, um, and to, to students at an earlier age before they get to college,” said Bayker.
Back in the town of Bridgewater, it doesn’t take long to find someone who’s surprised about slavery in New Jersey.
Christopher Montefusco lives on Foothill Road.
“Yeah, it’s crazy, to think New Jersey this far away. I was totally shocked, totally blown away,” he said.
Montefusco wasn’t surprised I was here to talk about the Prince Rodgers Slave Cemetery. It’s in his side yard. The tombstones are within view of the goalie net Montefusco’s son uses for soccer practice.
“You couldn’t see any of the headstones, you couldn’t see anything. So, I thought it was the neighbor’s property,” he said.
Loryan Allen show us Prince Rodger’s tombstone. It’s is the largest in the cemetery. The names and dates are worn away and harder to read. Both that marker and the other smaller ones have parts broken off. Allen thinks it was local teenagers…
“I guess they were drinking,” Allen speculated. “So, they decided they were going to take the stones, and they literally lifted them up out of the ground and threw them all over the cemetery. They broke them in half.”
The upper left hand corner of Prince Rodgers’ grave marker is chipped off. Allen says it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
“They weren’t able to get it out of the ground, but they were able to break it. They had to make an effort to break that stone,” she said.
Prince Rodgers’ slavery ended in 1839. A New Jersey law freed captive women at the age of twenty one and black men at twenty five. The cemetery that bears Rodger’s name was officially dedicated last year. But Allen says, by that time, the name of the former slave was all over town.
“There’s a ten acre complex right around the corner on Prince Rodgers Avenue that’s named in his honor, and there’s a shopping center, Prince Rodgers Shopping Center, and Prince Rodgers Avenue goes all the way to Bridgewater Commons,” said Allen.
But, Allen wants Rodger’s stories to live on as well. He supposedly fought in the U.S. Civil War as a free man, and his descendants live in Bridgewater to this day. All of the families we’ve met in this series have cemeteries and memories they’re working to preserve. But that chance may be slipping away due to the passage of time. There’s also the issue of people, both white and black, who don’t want to talk about racial issues including slavery.
A gentle rain was falling during our visit to the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery in Northport, near Tuscaloosa. We began our series on preserving slave burial sites here. This two acre cemetery was set aside by plantation owner John Welch Prewitt in the 1820’s.
“Obviously, there are very distinct rows,” said Len Strozier. He runs Omega Mapping Services in Fortson, Georgia. APR news invited him to use ground penetrating radar to do an underground scan of Old Prewitt. Strozier found forty unmarked burials within a half hour. He says he also noticed how they were buried.
“Someone was managing this cemetery,” he observed. “And bodies weren’t thrown out there like grass seed. They were meticulously, and the depths are pretty similar, too.”
“The only reason any of us are here today, is because somebody came before us, and they really came before us,” said Patricia Kemp, who we met earlier in our program. She believes some of her ancestors are laid to rest at Old Prewitt.
“I want to where I came from. I want to know about slavery. I want to what they went through, because they went through a lot for me to be here,” said Kemp.
And answers like those may take more than ground penetrating radar.
“There’s not going to be any body left in here. The body’s decomposed,” said Strozier. The hair, teeth, bone, is pretty much gone,” said Len Strozier. He says his equipment can confirm that someone is buried at Old Prewitt. But, it won’t reveal who that person is. Strozier says that would take clues uncovered by something closer to archeology.
“It could be the sole of a shoe, it could be the handle off the side of a casket, it could be a button off a shirt,” he speculated.
And that kind of work will likely take time and money. Congress has been working for three years to pass the African American Burial Ground Conservation Act. If the measure becomes law, it’s supposed to provide grants for preservation. But there may be things that dollars can’t buy. Getting people to talk about slavery, for one.
“You know, our students often come into the classroom in college, uh, having not been exposed to the history of slavery in the north and especially the history of slavery in New Jersey,” said Doctor Jesse Bayker at Rutgers University. We spoke with him as APR visited the Prince Rodgers Slave cemetery in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Bayker says many of his students hear for the first time how eleven thousand slaves were held in the Garden State around the year 1800.
“It’s a surprise to many of them that slavery was, uh, an important part of new Jersey’s early development of new Jersey’s economy,” Bayker stated.
Not only did New Jersey enslave Africans, but it was the last northern state to free them following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The subject of slavery became more than a topic of classroom discussion at Rutgers back in 2016.
A report released for Rutgers’ two hundred and fiftieth anniversary focused on the school’s own ties to slavery. An enslaved worker helped build the campus. Rutgers’ first President owned slaves. His family once held famed abolitionist Sojourner Truth. Jesse Bayker says the university is confronting its role in slavery, but not everyone in New Jersey is
“The people who are uncomfortable with looking at that history or acknowledging it. I think they have their own journey, and their own road that they need go on to deal with the fact that we’re going to keep on talking about this,” said Bayker. “We’re going to keep acknowledging this history. No, we’re not to sweep it away under the rug.”
And the hesitancy to talk about slavery may be complicating efforts to preserve slave burial sites both in New Jersey and here in Alabama. You might recall our visit to the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance and its twentieth anniversary workshop north of Huntsville.
“You can find the first name of enslaved people, the slaveholders,” said Ollye Ballard. We met her earlier in our series. The retired magnet school principal is working to find the burial site of her great great grandfather in Huntsville. She says records that identify slaves only with numbers or first names make it tough.
“If it was you, it would just ‘Pat’ and maybe age thirty seven. But, that’s all the information you will have on them,” Ballard stated.
Her great great grandfather was enslaved in 1842. She says one thing she’s tried is to talk with the families of former plantation owners for clues to his final burial site. But, getting the descendants of slaveholders to open up to families of the enslaved hasn’t been easy.
“Many times when we make a presentation, we hear things like ‘I had nothing to do with that, that was long before,” Ballard recalled.
“They’re not gonna say nothing, they just go, that’s where we buried him,” added Ethel Alexander. We met her earlier in our program as well. Alexander is the past President of the Birmingham African American Genealogy Group. It’s the largest organization in the state that helps black Alabamians trace their roots. Alexander is researching her own family tree, so she says she knows the roadblocks and the frustrations.
“You know, we there’s a lot of things we take that we don’t like to take, but we take it anyway,” she said. “Because we just don’t have the strength to fight it. You know, but yeah, it’s frustrating. And it’s sad, and it’s hurtful.”
But, Alexander says that frustration involves more than just white people who don’t want to open up. She uses her own family as an example.
“Yes, we talk among ourselves,” Alexander confided. “We do. And the way I’m talking to you may be a little different than the way I might talk with my dad, you know. And, he did not talk a lot. And,I was thinking about that. I think about that often because they never talked about growing up too much, and what was going on and all of that. That was always kind of not talked about.”
It’s other people who may not to talk that has Alexander concerned. She says her family tree has a possible branch in Florida. Alexander doesn’t know what kind of reception she’ll get when she goes looking for access to those burial sites…
“What can I do? You know what I’m saying? Very rich people own it. It owned by this big company. What are they going to say? Would they going to help me get to it? Because I know it’s there. I scared they’re going to say…sorry.”
Voters in Alabama head to the polls next week for the November midterms. One issue on the ballot is whether to remove slavery from the State Constitution, 157 years after Congress banned the practice nationally with the 13th amendment. And all that uncertainty may be just one issue as Alexander, and others, work to make sure there’s No Stone Unturned.
There are many ways to learn of our ancestor’s good taste in fine things. The Good Genes Genealogy team — First Cousins Ann Wead Kimbrough and Mark Owen — are fortunate that our grandmother, “Mama” Helen Wilkes Owen Douthy, was a collector of fine items, including china settings.
Mama Helen always found discreet ways to ‘break the mold.’ She was mother of six children and the twice-divorced mother made sure that her children were raised in a close-knit community as she worked as an administrative specialist — a “Hidden Figure” — employed at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. She found ways to travel the world as an ambassador from her church. It was on those travels that we also gained valued treasures that are great conversation pieces today.
The exquisite porcelain, blue flowered paisley and white patterns on her china, were indicators of the time period in which Mama Helen owned her set. The clues are good for genealogy sleuths who are interested in how our ancestors acquired and valued their fine things that provided for our great foundation.
Here are some tips on finding out when Mama Helen acquired this beautifully maintained china place setting.
Turn over the back of the dishes to study the numbering and markings.
Locate websites that have graphic images for you to compare your findings with the others. We were fortunate in that this was a relatively quick search. Here are our results.
The upside of the china set also reveals its estimated manufacturing period. In our case, the beautiful, gold-trimmings confirmed the purchase time frame.
It is also interesting to learn of the heritage of the china that my grandmother selected. “History of the Chodziez faience factory starts in 1852 or 1854 when Hermann Müller and Ludwik Schnorr bought a burnt building of the Grudzinski castle from count Koenigsmarck. The castle building is still in possession of the company.”
As we reflect upon the meals that were eaten on this tableware, it is an opportunity to recall our fond family gatherings. At the time, I am sure that we did not know just how precious the dinnerware would mean to us. This is another way for your family genealogy to help bring back good times to our hearts and minds. Try it.
(First cousins Ann and Mark’s mothers are the daughters of Mama Helen).
In our family, we are aware of at least two relatives — one is an ancestor — who were and are visually impaired. In our lineage, Great Aunt Ada Chitwood Wilkes, became blind during our Grandmother Helen Wilkes Owen Douthy’s youth. The other visually impaired — fully blind — relative is John Charles Kimbrough, 36, son of Ann Wead Kimbrough of Good Genes Genealogy.
On Oct. 15, 2022, we honor White Cane Safety Day by sharing what we know of our Great Aunt Ada. She and Great Uncle Cecil Wilkes, were co-principal caregivers for Grandmother Helen along with her mother, Edna Wilkes Robinson, the Good Genes Genealogy team, Mark Owen and Kimbrough.
“I remember ‘Mom’ was blind and yet, she could really cook and sew,” said Angeline Cecil Owen Wead, eldest daughter of Grandmother Helen, also the mother and aunt of the Good Genes Genealogy team.
Ancestry.com research confirmed the abilities of Great Aunt Ada and Great Uncle Cecil inhabited a home in 1934 that confirmed her occupation. We suggest that all readers of this blog research ancestors who were differently abled by asking questions of your living relatives. That is how we learned about the life of Great Aunt Ada. She transitioned on Nov. 19, 1955 in Omaha, Nebraska, several years following the death of her husband, Great Uncle Cecil.
White Cane Day Safety Day is one way to pause and observe the challenges our ancestors faced while navigating the sighted U.S. prior to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The signing of the U.S. law followed years of discrimination lawsuits and awareness campaigns by advocates and individuals who knew well the hurdles faced by those with mental, emotional and physical ailments.
The United States does not have the lock on providing legislation to protect and support those with visual and other disabilities. While in Hong Kong, Good Genes Genealogy’s Ann Wead Kimbrough, learned firsthand of the societal accommodations for its elderly and disabled residents. For instance, streetlights, public signage and private facilities showcased its welcoming adjustments for “specially abled” individuals.
Here are some ideas on how to honor our ancestors on White Cane Safety Day:
Ask questions of relatives to learn about ancestors who were partially or wholly blind or otherwise visually impaired.
Research those lives of ancestors and conduct additional searches of how their lifestyles intersected with public accommodations, private settings and more.
Write about what you have discovered. Keep our ancestors stories in front of our families and friends.
Chapter Four Labor Day and Black Codes, Black Laws
Most of us regard the Labor Day weekend each September as the official end of summer. Yet, Labor Day had different meanings for the once enslaved African Americans who worked for no wages on lucrative agricultural plantations. Even after the Union defeated the Confederate states in the Civil War, those freed by the federal statute continued to endure harsh conditions during the Reconstruction period. Those conditions were imposed upon African Americans by the Southern states’ Black Codes (read in the next section of this blog) while U.S. labor unions were waging efforts for the federal government to enact a national holiday in honor of other laborers.
The federal law creating Labor Day was born to recognize the employed men, women, and children. During the Industrial Revolution in late 1800, several atrocities were reported about the working conditions for the impoverished and new migrants whose average workdays were 12 hours and children as young as five were included. (Labor Day 2021: Facts, Meaning & Founding – HISTORY). On Sept. 5, 1882, the first Labor Day parade took place in New York City. See below.
Black Codes, Black Laws
Meanwhile, African Americans were suffering as laborers during the same late 19th century period. African Americans’ treatment in the Industrial Revolution era was deemed as carryover treatment from the days of mass enslavement. Post-slavery and during the Reconstruction, every Southern state’s legislature enacted Black Codes to “protect their investments” (Project MUSE – Blue Laws and Black Codes (jhu.edu) and to build infrastructure. In Virginia, prison labor on the chain gang was primarily comprised mainly of African Americans who were deemed vagrants and guilty of other crimes under the state’s Black Codes. The chain gang members were not compensated, and their purpose was to build roads “to bring Virginia into the automobile age.” (Project MUSE – Blue Laws and Black Codes (jhu.edu) Black codes required freed African Americans to sign yearly labor contracts. If they refused to sign the agreements, the laborer risked being arrested, fined, and forced to join the chain gang and not receive any wages for their toils. ( https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-codes) https://nomoreslaveryyay.weebly.com/rights-and-vagrancylaws.html According to numerous historical documents, Congress passed legislation to repeal all Black Codes, yet the Southern States continued with its practices. (https://nomoreslaveryyay.weebly.com/rights-and-vagrancylaws.html) There was an overlap of Black Codes in non-Southern states. Known as the Black Laws, the restrictions were enacted in conditions that included Ohio in 1803. Author Stephen Middleton, (The Black Laws: Race and the Legal Process in Early Ohio · Ohio University Press / Swallow Press (ohioswallow.com) explains Black slaves and free African Americans found refuge in Ohio. Yet, new laws prohibited many movements and imposed restrictions that were eventually overturned in 1886.
Real Labor Days The real labor days began in the 17th century in the United States. Enslaved ancestors from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade were often sold and repurchased again at marketplaces like this one on Whitehall Street in Atlanta, Georgia. Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division The involuntary work performed by slaves has been documented in multiple media formats. However, leading scholars on the topic of African Americans’ slave history, “Clearly, dominant narratives at historic plantation sites have long been maintained by a white elite class at the expense of the enslaved and African American history in general. There is evidence of inclusion of the enslaved at the plantation museums; however, this movement is slow and evolutionary—not revolutionary.” (SEGEOGLOGO.eps (d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net) The enslaved life was anything but glamorous. Southern plantations were booming in commerce. Due to demands for cotton, tobacco, rice, and all agricultural products, the wealth of its owners increased the intensity to grow the slave population. Dark-skinned people, including Spence Johnson, the once free member of the Choctaw Nation, were placed in involuntary servitude. He and his family lived in the Indian Territory in 1850 when his mother and Johnson were sold at a Louisiana slave auction. They were not brought to the United States during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, yet were stolen and sold to perform free labor on giant plantations: As if laborious tasks were not enough to complete, slaves were the victims of horrific crimes against their bodies. Sometimes the chopping off of legs and arms and even women’s breasts were designed to keep slaves from fleeing their plantations. In the case of the phenomenal inventor and scholar George Washington Carver, he was castrated as a child by his master. His enslaver wanted to ensure the African American slave would not be intimate with the White man’s daughter.
(George Washington Carver Was Not Gay, But Castrated (Updated 2021) – MICHEAUX PUBLISHING (wordpress.com
One of the best ways to attract the attention of the genealogy “police” is to utilize materials that are either copyright protected or belong to private collections. Instead, find the copyright owners and utilize government archives and subscription services — including those that require fees — to remain free and clear in your postings. For instance, my subscription with WordPress entitles me to pull photos from its files.
Remember to first check the copyright status of any document or visual element when preparing to post the material in the so-called public domain. Social media is considered public domain. Social media is not considered the public domain. It may seem as if I was double-speaking. I am and I am not. Here’s why:
Just because something has been posted to Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platforms does not mean that content is now in the public domain and free for anyone to use. Social media is no different than other forms of online content — the content creator retains the copyrights to any images, text, or video he or she created. When reusing content found on the internet it’s vitally important to make sure you have obtained the right to do so from the content owner.
2. I usually post content and pictures that are derived from my personal files, including photographs taken by me or someone who have given the “rights” for me to do so.
Source: Ancestry, family files.
3. I usually seek photos to reuse that are from public sources such as the National Archives, Georgia Archives, newspapers and other media where the ownership is clearly stated. Please add the citations that are conveniently provided by the public site. For instance, the Digital Library of Georgia via GALILEO, offers five tabs on its site that include “cite.” Click on that tab and you will find the following for the photo that I am posting:
5. Be careful with the use of music as copyright infringement cases are plentiful in this category. Yet, there are many ways to work around using music in your genealogy spaces with safety and care. My advice:
The next time you look at a public photo, take a second and third look. Look at little closer.
I did just that and discovered a few gems that otherwise would remain barely etched into my childhood memories. At the picture in this blog feed, you will notice a Black man with a basketball. That’s my Dad, Dr. Rodney S. Wead. I am right next to his right, left from our view. I also noticed my maternal grandmother, Helen Douthy (the sunglasses and bonnet-like hat) holding the hand of my cousin, Lori. Lori’s mother, Aunt Greta, is holding my other cousin, Debbie.
I was 11 years old when this photo was take at Franklin Elementary School. Always the tallest girl in each grade, it helps now that my height helps to identify me in a crowd such as this one.
My paternal grandfather, Sampson Wead, is pictured in what was a rare sighting. He was a member of the DePorres Club and they were protesting Reed Ice Cream not hiring Black workers. That took a lot to do in the 1950s for Black folk no matter the location.
The Administrative Research Assistant will be a member of a team working on a National Endowment for the Humanities grant-funded project to identify Georgia records regarding the state’s response to desegregation. The end goal for this project is to present interactive in-house and virtual classes and tours for college and university professors, and students. Responsibilities of this position include finding documents to support the goals of the project.
Identify documents regarding segregation, desegregation, and the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia in Georgia Archives collections through research and select material appropriate for higher education classes and the general public.
Research online newspapers to find articles on Georgia’s response to desegregation.
Look through Georgia’s Supreme Court cases to find related cases on segregation and desegregation.
Perform background research on documents when needed for context.
Scan records using proper equipment.
Perform data entry to record the location and description of documents in collections and note which documents need conservation work.
Scan and enhance digital records for use in PowerPoint presentations.
Support logistic activities for classroom and public presentations and exhibits.
KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES REQUIRED:
Ability to use Microsoft Office programs.
Knowledge of the history of the state of Georgia.
Knowledge of historical methods.
Skill in scanning documents.
Skill in interpersonal communications with colleagues.
Skill in project planning, implementation, and management
Educational Requirements Associates degree.
Required Experience More than one year of experience performing clerical or administrative work.
Bachelor’s degree in history with coursework in 20th Century American history or African American history.
Familiarity with Civil Rights history.
Experience performing research at an archives.
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
The University System Office is an equal employment, equal access, and equal educational opportunity, and affirmative action institution. It is the policy of the University System Office to recruit, hire, train, promote and educate persons without regard to race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status as required by applicable state and federal laws (including Title VI, Title VII, Title IX, Sections 503, and 504, ADEA, ADA, E.O. 11246, and Rev. Proc. 75-50).
For questions or more detailed information regarding this policy please contact the University System Office Human Resources at 404.962.3242. Individuals requiring disability related accommodations for participation in any event or to obtain print materials in an alternative format, please contact Human Resources.
Founded in 1918, the Georgia Archives identifies, collects, provides access to, and preserves Georgia’s historic records. As the state archives of Georgia, one of the original thirteen colonies, the Georgia Archives holds a rich collection of colonial and state records covering nearly three centuries. Of the 85,000 cubic feet of records in the Georgia Archives, approximately 72,000 are official state records, 6,000 are local government records, and 7,000 are non-governmental (manuscript) collections. The Georgia Archives maintains a library collection of 23,000 books, pamphlets, and periodicals. The Georgia Archives, as a unit of the Board of Regents, is not part of a specific institution of higher education. The Board of Regents is a state agency.
The Georgia Archives is located at 5800 Jonesboro Road, Morrow, Georgia, and is adjacent to Clayton State University and the National Archives at Atlanta. Morrow is in Clayton County and is part of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is about 20 minutes away.
This temporary position pays $14.81 per hour and will end no later than the end of year 2022.
A successful background check will be required for successful candidate prior to hiring.
On a warm Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, Hillside’s Presiding Bishop Dr. Jack L. Bomar, led the sacred, community “Ancestral Prayer” ceremony. It included drumming that girded the rhymical and ancestral honoring blessings with the pouring of libations by Hillside member Sharon A. Smith. Today, she said, “I am the High Priestess” while acknowledging the oldest person attending the ceremony to give her the permission to continue.
The ceremony was the culmination of a monthlong series of genealogy workshops led by the Good Genes Genealogy Services team. GGGS donated its services to its host, Hillside International Truth Center, which is undergoing a massive renovation on the church’s nearly 50-year-old facility.
The outdoor ceremony was highlighted by Bishop Bomar leading the attendees in a process that began with everyone listing their ancestors on a blue sheet of paper. Everyone was asked to call the names of the ancestors and affirm the following prayer:
PRESENTED BY VALERIE TOLIVER IN THE FORM OF A COLLAGE
During the month of February 2022, Good Genes Genealogy Services presented three Saturday virtual classes involving family ancestry and genealogy.
Theme: “Walk With Our Ancestors
Assignment: Express families’ histories in varied formats. Others showcased their various projects. All shared with classmates to spark deeper ancestral questions, comments.
Here’s Valerie Toliver’s compelling story about her journey:
February 19, 2022
My History, A journey Through Time
This collage encompasses my journey from my homeland, Africa! In doing the African Ancestry DNA test, it was determined that my matriclan test (my mother’s maternal roots) results were for the Yoruba Tribe in Nigeria. A female cousin on my father’s side did the matriclan test as well. Her results determined the maternal roots for my father’s family. The results were the Yoruba and Hausa tribes also of Nigeria. Thus, I have included the flag of Nigeria as well as the symbols for both Yoruba and Hausa on my collage.
In my genealogy research over the years, I have been able to uncover 5 enslavers of my maternal and paternal ancestors. I have this list of surnames included in my collage. At this time, I have verified only one of the enslavers as being a DNA connection. My maternal great-great grandfather was enslaved and fathered by a member of the Shields family who originated in Scotland/Ireland. I don’t have a picture of the enslaver, but I have included pictures of one of his son’s and grandson’s. I also have included a picture of the DNA match that I have with one of his descendants, my 4-6th cousin. Their family shield, along with the copy of the will showing the sale of my ancestor to a 2nd enslaver is on the collage as well. I’m continuing to research the other 3 enslavers for my family. I have included a copy of the slave list for one enslaver and a reimbursement for funds owed to one of the enslavers for allowing my ancestor to serve in the United Stated Colored Troops. The signage used to lure more of the Black people, both enslaved and free, to serve in the Civil War is depicted in my project as well.
The culmination of items included are: pictures of my maternal and paternal ancestors, churches they attended, cities and states they lived in, articles from the “colored news “, the gravestones of my enslaved great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother, my grandfather’s barn and the stone memorial erected at my mother’s childhood church listing the members that have transitioned since 1870. My mother cut the ribbon for this historic wall only a few years prior to her transition in 2020. At the time, she was the oldest member in age and years of attendance that still attended the church.
This project started out just as a small collage to acknowledge Black History Month. It became much more as I stood in my truth about who I am and how I came to be.
I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams. I am God’s child.
I am taking a different narrative to receiving tips on where to find freebies to aid in genealogy research: Let’s freely give back a gratitude of thanks to a man who quietly helped a cherished civil rights favorite.
Rosa Parks would have been a 109 years old this month. Mike Ilitch transitioned two years ago.
To summarize my maternal grandmother’s life: She did the most.
In the winter months during 1963, my Maternal Grandmother, Helen Mary Wilkes (and also spelled Wilks), was donning a thinly clad garment and acting in the Greek tragedy, “Antigone.” That in of itself is nothing spectacular.
That is, except that “Mama Helen” (as were told by her to call her), in 1963 was also a mother of adult children and a high school student while working as an unnamed “Hidden Figure” at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base in nearby Bellevue, Nebraska. She was not supposed to be a “brain” at Offutt where she worked as administrative assistant to the scientists. She was actually an astute mathematician with an amazing intellect with exemplary secretarial skills.
Mama Helen was not supposed to be on the theatre stage at her age, 45, in a supporting role to help build her acting repertoire. She was not supposed to understand the Greek language and read Latin. She was not supposed to be old enough to be the mother of the play’s director. After all, she was a black woman who should have been content to remain hidden as a white-collar worker albeit with tremendous skills outside of the workplace. I often traveled with her from North Omaha to theatres around the city and developed my love for Latin, global travels and writing.
Thankfully, Mama Helen was never content being confined to what the so-called societal norms were in Omaha and across the nation. She would always tell me about her travels around the world. She was the super volunteer for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She played the organs at various churches on Sunday, often for no pay as she considered it her tithe to the church and unto God. Monies were stretched in the household, according to my mother, Angeline Cecil Owen Wead, the oldest of six children born in five years to Mama Helen and Grandpa Eugene Owen, II. Mama Helen was mostly the single parent in their household as my grandfather was off to build his hopes of a Hollywood career as a dancer and singer.
Thankfully, the village that was led by our Great-Grandmother Edna Lou Wilks Robinson, worked. Mama Helen received significant assistance from Grandmother Robinson.
In later years, Mama Helen was voted into the prestigious Omaha Central High School Hall of Fame. In this tribute to Mama Helen when she was inducted in the Hall of Fame that also honors Warren and Susie Buffett, my Dad, Dr. Rodney S. Wead, countless athletic, political, academic, world leaders and more, Mama Helen was remembered:
“Helen loved music and the arts and volunteered with Opera Omaha, Omaha Community Playhouse, Center Stage, and Chanticleer Theater. She served on the Nebraska Arts Council and Omaha’s Human Relations Board.
Helen passed away in 2008 at the age of 90.”
Upon Mama Helen’s retirement, she devoted her time to a program that she earlier developed to help single women develop skills to become secretaries, assistants and other related jobs inside of offices. She conducted the classes at a local community center.
Steps to help you to share stories about your ancestors
Walk with your ancestors by researching their lives.
Narrow down your work to focus on one ancestor.
Once you locate periodicals, broadcast reports, historical data on military cards, death certificates and more about your ancestor, take the time to capture where the information leads you to build the rest of the story.
Honor your ancestor. Take a moment and offer a wonderful prayer for her/his walk before you. Look for similarities between your life and the ancestor’s.
Share your results so that others may benefit from their stories. It also helps to establish your interests in activities.
During January and February 2022, the Good Genes Genealogy Services team provided five (5) workshops. The free workshops for the DeKalb County Public Library, and the Saturdays-in-February workshops where the proceeds are fully donated to our host, Hillside International Truth Center, certain references were named.
The following is a compilation of the referenced genealogy materials:
According to its website, “Ancestry.com LLC is an American genealogy company based in Lehi, Utah. The largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, it operates a network of genealogical, historical records, and related genetic genealogy websites.” https://ancestry.com
It is based in the UK and already has released the 1921 Census. The site is a compilation of media and government reports. There is a 14-day free trial. https://www.findmypast.com/
Search over 10 billion global historical records, birth, marriage and death records from 32 countries, 25 million pages of historical newspapers dating back to 1803, and more than 6.3 billion names – all with a 14-day free trial. Use it free for two weeks and cancel if it’s not for you. https://www.myheritage.com.
The USGenWeb Project is comprised of volunteers who provide free genealogy websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. It is a non-commercial site and wants to provide free genealogy access for everyone. http://www.usgenweb.org/
Access free digitized images of newspapers, books, films, maps, personal narratives, photos, prints, and drawings.https://www.archives.gov/
This site is free, yet it does ask if you wish to make a donation to keep its access free. Here’s the website announcement “Trace your roots for FREE with our searchable database containing thousands of identified and mystery photos for genealogy enthusiasts looking for long-lost family. Anyone who finds a photo of a direct ancestor that is owned by the archive will receive the photo for free. If the historic photos you find pique your interest in genealogy, you can continue your research by doing a family search here.” https://deadfred.com/
If your ancestors were Jewish, this website has more than 20 million records from all over the world to help you trace your Jewish heritage. https://www.jewishgen.org/
This is an activist group of historians, genealogists, researchers, and open government advocates, Reclaim the Records identifies information that should be in the public domain but has been restricted by the government, archive or library that holds it. https://www.reclaimtherecords.org
This site bills itself as “ConferenceKeeper.org is the most complete calendar of genealogy events — anywhere! Here you will find hundreds to thousands of genealogy webinars, workshops, seminars, conferences, podcasts and more, from genealogy societies, libraries, and other organizations all around the world.” It’s true. https://conferencekeeper.org/conference-keeper/
You may also be interested in the following conferences:
THE best and “free” source in genealogy research begins at your friendly neighborhood library. One library system that is used by Ann is the DeKalb County Public Library. Having a library card gives you access to services such as “Ask a Librarian” and broader research sites. Anyone may also request library cards in former home libraries across the nation. DeKalb County Public Library (dekalblibrary.org)
Nonpopulation census records can add “flesh” to the bones of ancestors and provide information about the communities in which they lived. Agriculture, mortality, and social statistics schedules are available for the census years of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. Manufacturing schedules are available for 1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. These records are arranged by state, then by county, and then by political subdivision (township, city, etc.). Schedules of business are available for 1935 for the following industries: advertising agencies, banking and financial institutions, miscellaneous enterprises, motor trucking for hire, public warehousing, and radio broadcasting stations.
State censuses can be as important as the federal census to genealogists but, because they were taken randomly, remain a much-under-utilized resource in American genealogy. State censuses often can serve as substitutes for some of the missing federal census records – most notably the 1790, 1800, 1810, and 1890 censuses. Many state censuses also asked different questions than the federal census, thus recording information that cannot be found elsewhere in the federal schedules. While not all states took their own censuses, and some have not survived, state and local census records can be found in many locations. Most states which took censuses usually did so every 10 years, in years ending in “5” (1855, 1865, etc.) to complement the federal census. These state census records are most often found at the state archives or state library. Many are also on microfilm through a local Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and online via commercial genealogy databases. State Censuses – History – U.S. Census Bureau
Inaugural 2021 Genealogy Book published by Good Genes Genealogical Services
Researching genealogy and family histories are exciting activities. Equally thrilling are the research results coming to life in the form of podcasts, blogs, puzzles, articles, affirmations, proclamations, presentations, stage plays, films, clothing and other expressions of our ancestors’ rich legacies.
Here’s a partial listing of the Black History Month programs, activities and other recognitions throughout the United States:
Good Genes Genealogy Services offers a hands-on, virtual series of workshops with the proceeds benefiting Hillside International Truth Center. Learn how to move your research into multi-media productions, products and services. The bonus is the honoring of our ancestors with an in-person circle of release and love. See below to register.
How to attend and be present for the future
Remember to bring along a notepad, whether electronic or paper. My youngest son brings his Braille notetaker.
Listen to the genealogy and ancestry points of information that relate to your current and future research.
Ask questions and make comments about what matters to you. At one of my recent online seminars, a participant asked that I return to former slides to review the listing of great resources for genealogy research.
Provide feedback to the event host. The feedback and especially the recommendations for topics of future topics, remain important to event hosts.
Relax and release so that you may enjoy and learn from every activity and program.
About 12 years ago, I received important advice from an Arkansas special collections librarian. She asked me to share my paternal family’s history as I discovered it — bit by bit.
I recall telling her that I did not have much to report on my grandfather, Samuel Luster Weed (now Wead), and his family who lived in Helena, Arkansas during the bloody summer of 1919 in the Delta region. She said, “even if you have one page to share, share it.” This librarian was responsible for my brick wall breakthrough as she found Big PaPa Wead. I am forever grateful.
Start where you are. That is the straight-forward message I received from Rhonda. It applies to new and seasoned genealogy and family ancestry researchers.
Thank you, Rhonda.
I have been repeating that refrain since then. I will repeat it again soon during the annual Sankofa Genealogy monthlong celebrations hosted by Atlanta, Ga.’s Hillside International Truth Center. During our Saturday Sankofa Genealogy workshops, our emphasis is to encourage participants to show their work. Do as Rhonda wisely advised me, share their stories. As the Ghanian Sankofa bird teaches us, reach back to retrieve what is lost while moving forward as its body shows.
Start where you are … again.
Start where you are.
I recently received an email prompt from the TV network, NBC. It showcased a story about a lady who “struck” black family genealogy gold by linking her family’s past to that of Abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Another NBC story that aired a year ago was also a great bright light. It featured a boy dressed up like his favorite news anchor who became an ancestor. It is an example of starting where you are. I am sure that Rhonda is proud. I am.
Tips for starting where you are in family research
Begin with your research question or purpose. It could be you are looking to find at least one family member from your mother’s or father’s ancestors.
Ask questions among family members, even if you are repeating yourself. You may be surprised with their new responses to you.
Seek the help from a librarian, a historian, a genealogist and newspaper by utilizing surnames that you are familiar with. Make sure you spell the surname at least seven different ways.
If you are seeking a female ancestor, know that her married name may cause many brick walls. Seek her maiden name, albeit it is usually a tough search.
Publish, write, speak or produce a video. Create a one-page document as I did to break the ice of publishing my research, thanks to Rhonda.
February is the perfect month to journey with our ancestors. For the second year, Good Genes Genealogy Services LLC, will offer a series of Saturday morning, live and virtual workshops that follow the principles of the Ghana, Africa Sankofa bird.
February is known as the month of love, is marked by the American Heart Association, and is the USA’s Black History Month of recognition and celebration. The power of love is always with me. The recent deaths of loved ones from matters of the heart impact my soul. The annual recognition of Black History Month honors our ancestors — whether African American, Irish American, Afro Caribbean American and more.
Tips for a worthwhile attendee to this workshop series:
Be open and receptive to learning new facts about our ancestors;
Expect to receive reminders and prompts about ancestry and genealogy;
Challenge yourself to move your basic or lengthy family ancestry research to production;
Be prepared to participate fully in the Sankofa Genealogy classes, especially in weeks three (3) and four (4); and
Enjoy the classes and if possible, the in-person ancestral healing ceremony on the last Saturday of February.
A word of gratitude: The workshops conducted by Mark S. Owen and Ann Wead Kimbrough, are made possible through the collective production team of ministers. They are Bishop Jack Bomar, Drs. Marian Gamble and Tony Burks II, Revs. Sharon Hodnett and Senay Johnson.
I was moved by a newspaper columnist’s description of the great flood in the 1940s that invaded my hometown, Omaha, Nebraska and neighboring city, Council Bluffs, Iowa. What led me to this article was an active conversation I was having with my parents about a time when the entire community pulled together to help one another.
My Dad and his buddies were drafted to help build structures to help fend off the water disaster that paralyzed the area for several weeks.
As I listened to their separate remembrances, I was scanning the flooded areas via today’s Internet. There were empty spaces where houses and businesses once stood, while stronger structures remaining upon the soggy grounds.
What was my fantastic tool to locate the historical Iowa and Nebraska? It’s the Freebie Friday “My Genealogy Hound.” It’s a great website with more than 2,100 historic county maps from throughout the United States. I’ve found it helpful when I was researching my ancestors in Georgia. I wanted to see where my paternal family lived in Helena, Arkansas in 1919, and our (Good Genes Genealogy team) maternal relatives’ homes and businesses in Springfield, Missouri between 1900 and 1945.
Some maps don’t allow the researcher to drill down and find every old road that I was seeking. Yet, most of the county maps give me a great sense of the areas.
There’s at least one county map for every county in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
Only partial lists exist for the remaining U.S. states. Within all states, more county maps are regularly added.
On this annual day of Epiphany, it is also the birth of my most cheriished ancestor. Today, Jan. 6, 2022, would have been my Paternal Aunt Beverly Ann Wead Blackburn Jones’ 85th birthday. She transitioned in 1973 at the age of 36. I was 15 years old. It was the first family death that left an indelible mark upon my life.
My father’s baby sister, my mother’s best friend, my dear ancestor Aunt Beverly, has taught me so much over the nearly 49 years since her transition. Many of our ancestors have that ability to guide us through our genealogy journeys. My advice: Let them.
Aunt Beverly is more than the grave marker of her birth and death dates. She was a standout scholar, athlete and civic citizen that began in her high school years. She continued with similar activities in college and added accomplishments that included journalist, sorority member and U.S. Senate recognized achiever. She was twice married, had three children during her first marriage, owned businesses and hosted many recreational and entertainment activities for children and teenagers in our hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
When I wrote about my dear Aunt Beverly a year ago, I did not have the family details that I have since retrieved. Thanks to Aunt Beverly, I offer the following genealogy tips that lead to more discoveries in our ancestry searches:
Update ancestor’s information. Review the ancestor’s information for updates that are often added through online sources. I found new information relevant to Aunt Beverly’s ancestry data. A closer look at the 1940 U.S. Census data for Aunt Beverly’s/my Dad’s family showed that their Dad/my grandfather completed one year of high school.
Review linked ancestor’s information. While reviewing your ancestor, follow her or his lineage for the same purpose of online updates. I found new and rich updates about my ancestors who are Aunt Beverly’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s information.
Resist the tendency to keep your original research. Often, we don’t want to release our early research about our ancestors after we find new documents that provide validity. For instance, my great-great grandmother’s birth year and location were incorrect on my family tree. Documents were recently released that gave accurate results based on Fannie Robinson Wade’s recently found birth certificate from 1841.
4. Verify new information. Using my paternal great-great grandmother’s data, I verified her birth year by reviewing the 1880 U.S. Census for her age at that time. I also found two other trees that included Fannie Robinson Wade as part of their research. The reconciled birth year information appears to be accurate.
5. Select a routine day or date to review and update ancestral information. I use my ancestors’ birthdays, marriage anniversaries, holidays and death anniversaries to pause and review existing information for updates. With Aunt Beverly, I review her life’s story on her birthday and in June of each year.
The how-tos that I presented can be expanded by each researcher reading this WordPress blog and social media post. Share your ideas to help others and the Good Genes Genealogy team to gain new research techniques.
This column is reprinted from WeadWriteAwayandGenealogy
Author: Learning family histories
Our genealogy traces our family from western and central Africa and western Europe. Our ancestors entered the United States at the Virginia and Georgia Ports. First cousins Mark Owen and Ann Lineve Wead (it is protocol to use the maiden names of females in genealogy searches) are responsible for writing this blog. Although Ann has been involved in genealogy research while searching for certain ancestors since the age of 10, the cousins began deeper research of their families during the COVID-19 Pandemic Year of 2020. Devoting as much as 6 hours some evenings to the methodical training and research of genealogy, the cousins completed the year 2020 by earning genealogy certificates. Join us. @goodgenesgenealogy on wordpress and fb, twitter Sign up for our blog and enjoy the journey. View all posts by Learning family histories
Check out the ancestry.com Library edition for free forms and charts
Check out the ancestry.com Library edition for free forms and charts
I did a double take when I was searching for genealogy information via ancestry.com on my local public library’s website. The free Ancestry.com site courtesy of my favorite library, DeKalb County Public Library, has different offerings than my private, subscription-based ancestry.com account.
That’s the first freebie: Use your public library card to log into your local branch’s website and search for ancestry.com. Once in the site, select the “charts and forms” tab and click on to access it.
The second freebie is found in the ancestry.com charts and forms tab. You may wish to download any or all six of the forms and charts. The forms and charts are great tools to help the novice and seasoned genealogy researchers to organize family documents.
The charts and forms from ancestry. com are also exclusively offered on library sites. That’s a bonus for having a library card.
Hurry! Ancestry.com’s Library editions may be ending soon, according to the company’s website.
My ancestry.com family tree is appropriately named: “Bartee Douthy Duncan Fisher Kimbrough Owen Parker Shaw Thompson Wead Weed Wilks Wilkes Family Tree.”
Below is a photo of the Wilkes family and friends in front of their home in Springfield, Missouri. It is estimated that this photo was taken in 1925.
To gain the best results from building your family tree on any ancestry website, list the top surnames. As you build your family tree, remember the surnames and always use the maiden names of your female ancestors in genealogy searches.
In my early years of researching my family, I included my female ancestors’ married names in family genealogy searches. It limited my information collection. Now that I have replaced the married names with maiden names, the family searches are much more successful.
How do you find the maiden names? Check marriage certificates and licenses, marriage announcements and bonds for the correct maiden names of relatives. For instance, as shown below, I located the maiden name of Florida L. Fisher on the marriage license certifying the union with our cousin, Herbert Gerald Parker.
If marriage documents are tough to find, ask your oldest family members to help remember the maiden names. When I used my maternal Great- Great-Grandmother’s Melissa C. Gray Wilkes’ maiden name, I easily located her parents and her grandparents. The Gray surname was the key to finding her parents, grandparents and siblings.
Great-Great-Grandmother Melissa Gray Wilkes (1871 – 1934) is viewed below:
Happy family searches. Build your family trees with maiden names linked to the strong surnames.
For many of us, it is a challenge to learn of our grandparents and their parents. Think about the challenge of locating 10 generations of grandparents, or stated another way, your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents!
While the Good Genes Genealogy cousins are only halfway there with our maternal grandparents, we, like you, will keep trying to reach the 10th generation of relatives.
Here’s some solid advice from us and colleagues who are genealogy buffs:
Decide on your purpose for your family tree. Some prefer to build family tree to only link direct lineage. Others build trees for family history purposes. Both types of family trees are valuable.
Now begin with yourself to begin your family tree, hence the top of the Christmas tree shaped family tree that is displayed in this blog.
Fill in as much as you know about your grandparents and their parents, if possible.
Use death and birth certificates, if available, to verify each grandparents’ parents.
DNA results remain a huge help in filling in the names of grandparents, siblings, cousins and other relatives.
Do not ignore individuals that keep appearing on your ancestry lines that do not appear to be blood relatives. Their records are equally important to locate ancestors as those “nonblood” individuals may share other family relationships.
If grandparents have been married more than once, you have the choice to add each marriage, or directly link your blood lines to the married grandparents. It’s tricky, yet family tree-building technology is now allowing for some flexibility.
Build in lots of genealogy research time to achieve whatever goals you have for building family trees this holiday season.
Have fun, relax, share memories and ask great questions of your relatives to build your tree.
I was busy preparing my holiday cards when my thoughts turned to gift-giving. What is the greatest genealogy gift that I could give to my family? The answer: Ancestral research findings.
Guess what? I, too, received the greatest gift.
I poured through our family ancestry records and discovered great finds via newspapers.com. I attached the newspaper clippings to my family members’ trees and also printed some records to share as part of my gift giving.
The clipping below was part of my gift to Cousin-by-marriage Florida L. Fisher Parker a year ago during the holiday season. She was overjoyed to see this clipping, her marriage license and other related documents that I uncovered through electronic methods. My discoveries also prompted Florida sharing funny and tearful memories about that great day in her life.
Florida, the widow of Ret. Col. Herbert Gerald Parker, is an enthusiast genealogist. She piqued my interest in genealogy while we all lived in Tallahassee, FL. Typically, I would visit with Florida and we would prepare documents for the family reunion. After the burial of her husband, my cousin, Herb, at Arlington National Cemetery in D.C., Florida chose to live near her daughter and family in Maryland. Distance and COVID-19 restrictions have grounded our travels and frequency of our conversations.
That’s why this year, I bundled up some new finds that are related to her deceased father, Dr. Miles Mark Fisher. During my research of her father, I discovered my greatest gifts.
Gift #1: I learned that Dr. Fisher was the author of several books and articles. One of his books, “The Life of Lott Cary” is out of print. It is about the life of a former slave who toiled many years to earn enough to purchase his freedom and that of his family’s. He became a member of the clergy and also ascended into other high places.
Gift #2: I learned that Rev. Fisher was the longtime pastor of White Rock Baptist Church, Durham, N.C. It was a church that was widely recognized nationwide and in its community for its social activism and highly touted black businessmen and civil rights leaders as congregants. He also initiated a program that held period racially integrated religious services.
Gift #3: I learned that Dr. Fisher was a scholar. He was on faculty at Virgina Union and Shaw University.
Gift #4: I learned the young scholar was one of the first “Negroes to receive the Ph.D. degree in philosophy and religion from the University of Chicago.”
Gift #5: The joy that the printed articles bring to Florida’s life. She doesn’t use technology, yet, she is fond of receiving information about her family.
By sharing your ancestral findings with loved ones, you are giving the greatest gift of all during this holiday season and throughout the year.
The Good Genes Genealogy Services team has been providing free and low-cost services to engaging clients throughout 2021.
To keep our services at this level, we invite you to support us by investing a few dollars into the books we published during this second health pandemic year. The bonus book is written by Dr. Ann Wead Kimbrough about her father, Dr. Rodney S. Wead, a relatively unknown and yet effective community leader.
All of the books genealogy books are written by the cousin duo, Kimbrough and Mark S. Owen. The book illustrator for all books is Veverly Byrd-Davis. Besides our publishing company, http://www.lulu.com (see bookstore, Good Genes Genealogy), our books are offered on many national book sites.
Hear, hear! Rather than dole out hard cash (or credit cards) for an annual audio subscription for books, I choose to make great use of my DeKalb County (GA) Public Library card and tune into hoopladigital.com.
Check your library for free audio book subscriptions.
That’s my best Freebie Friday tip. Sign up and listen to great books like the one I just finished:
Ancestry.com is a premium subscription-based genealogy website with over 8 billion genealogy records, most of which are online images of original documents. In addition, Ancestry has more than 35 million user-submitted family trees, which include photographs, written stories, and scanned documents.
One of Ancestry’s best kept secrets is that they also have over 1,300 always-free databases. To view these free records, you may be asked to sign up for a free account, but the account is free, no strings attached. You do not need a free trial to view these records.
Any USA AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY — CAN AB BC MB NB NF NT NS TT ON PE QC SK YT — INTL Locality
Although this database is called the Free Index, it actually includes indexes as well as images. This Free Index Search contains all the free Ancestry.com record databases but does not include the very popular Family Trees.
Below is a list of the most popular Ancestry free databases. Scroll down to see some of the the free Ancestry databases that are listed by country and state.
In our family, several births, deaths and marriages took place in the month of November.
In 1888, two teenagers — Robert B. Wilkes and Melissa C. Gray — married in a simple ceremony in Greene County, Missouri. The hard-to-view document includes the signature witness of our Great-Great Grandfather’s father, Peter Wilkes. He gave permission for his 17-year-old son to marry his bride.
For our Great-Great Grandmother, the form noted that she was under the age of 21. Other records show that she, too, was 17 years old.
Their marriage remained for another 40+ years until their deaths. Their union produced 13 children; 11 lived to adulthood. The Wilkes family lived a great life in the hills of Springfield, Missouri. Most children, including our Great-Great Grandmother Edna Robinson, graduated from high school and moved away from home to the states of Nebraska, Hawaii and New York.
If you are interested in the lives of your ancestors, check out the marriage records. For those even easier to read than this one of our loved ones, you will likely learn more about the circumstances of the marriage. In this case, the only person requiring permission to marry was the groom since he was not yet the legal age of 18 years old.
By planes, trains and automobiles, an estimated 54 million U.S. travelers made it families and friends this 2021 Thanksgiving season. Those numbers are nearly equal to pre-Covid 2019 levels, according to AAA, air, train and government travel trackers.
If so, don’t spend all of your time around the table of good food, or shopping until you drop. Instead, start now to preserve your precious history by recording short and even long stories of your loved ones.
As a nearly lifelong writer (Ann) who began journaling at age 10, I learned the importance of being a good listener who captured cool stories from the annual family gatherings. Those early lessons served me well as I became an award-winning financial journalist who found that my interview skills came in handy when I became more interested in African American family genealogy.
Admittedly, it is not easy getting our family members to open up about their past. However, I have found that to get meaningful conversations started, flattery gets you everywhere. Here are my quick tips on how to glean information from your loved ones:
Tell them upfront that you are interested in preserving your family’s history. If they are like my Great Cousin Madeline Wilkes, your loved ones may respond with “no one really wants to know that stuff about me.” That’s a stall. Take immediate action such as what I describe in the next step.
Do what they like to do. Sit, cook, read, watch TV, walk, play cards and board games, fish, shop and generally hang out with them. In the case of Great Cousin Madeline, I took pictures of her and showed her how vibrant she looked at 90 years old. With that in motion, I moved to my next step and my recommendation for you.
Have your recorder, camera and notebook handy to capture stories about their earlier holidays and hobbies. I asked her questions about her father, my great-grandmother’s brother. She loved to talk about her Dad. I got some great stories. I was able to wrap up our short conversation by reiterating and expanding my reasons for asking her a few questions. I was pleased that I advanced to the final step.
Tell them why their stories are important to the families’ legacies because it ensures the younger generations learn from the older ones’ successes and any mistakes.
For more ideas on how to speak with your relatives to capture their stories, check out this great freebie checklist from Genealogy Bargains.