Decoration Day, May 1, 1865: Nation’s first Memorial Day

Happy Decoration Day!

The Good Genes Genealogy team remembers when our Maternal Great Grandmother Edna Robinson would rise early in Omaha, Nebraska with family members so that they would be the first at the cemetery to clean and decorate the humble grave markers.

Many family members who transitioned before Aunt Beverly had humble grave markers that were reminiscent of the enslaved grave markers of rocks or humble engravings on stone.

Memorial Day as we know it, began as a solemn ceremony, known as Decoration Day that honored the U.S. Civil War dead. Thousands of freed slaves in the low country of South Carolina are credited for the beautiful honors bestowed upon the casualties.

The Civil War was closing in April 1865 after the Union troops entered the city of Charleston, S.C. Historical accounts reveal that most of the white residents fled the city years earlier. The Black residents of Charleston remained to celebrate and welcome the troops, including the Twenty-First Colored Infantry. It was May 1, 1865 and the first-named Decoration Day later became known as Memorial Day. Even current-day accounts neglect to give credit where credit is due. However, noted historians are reviving the original founding of Memorial Day with great detail.

Historian David Blight retold the story:

During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some 28 black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freed people. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

At 9 a.m. on May 1, the procession stepped off led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses.

Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathered in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. (“The First Decoration Day,” Newark Star Ledger).

The Colored 21st Infantry and the Colored 54th Infantry are both credited for its direct and indirect involvement in the celebration of the first Decoration Day. From the archives of the University of Southern California:

54th Massachusetts Infantry

Assigned to command the assault on a South Carolina Confederate fort during the battle at Battery Wagner in July 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry of the Civil War was composed primarily of freed black slaves from northern Union states.

Though the siege was unsuccessful, the heroism of a number of members of the infantry drew the attention of the nation. In particular, Sgt. William Carney risked his life to lead the troops forward, erecting the Union flag. He suffered two bullet wounds but survived, going on to become the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his unprecedented courage.


Little known 1930s, “landmark” program aided Native Americans and U.S. environment

A special, free presentation by the National Archives on May 31, 2023, will highlight a little known program that involved 3 million Native American men who were hired by the United States government to preserve the nation’s natural resources. Known first as the Indian Emergency Conservation Work (IECW) program, and later named the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID), it was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s massive jobs creation initiative.

For genealogists researching their Native American heritage, the records kept by the CCC-ID are tough to assemble because the tribes/nations of Native American were responsible for the record-keeping. The quarterly reports to the federal government were also supplemented by publications such as the one shown above in this post. Those are the most informative pieces of information that will greatly aid in the ancestral searches involving Native Americans.


Consumers interest in genealogy/ancestry research reaches epic proportion

The global direct-to-consumer laboratory testing market projected annual growth is double-digit through 2030

Photo by Czapp u00c1rpu00e1d on Pexels.com

If there is any doubt that genealogy/ancestry research is capturing the world’s attention, especially, take a look at the latest data collection regarding consumer-requested testing for DNA. The global, direct-to-consumer (DTC) lab testing market is projected to reach $7.92 billion by 2030, growing at an annual rate of 10.9 percent, according to ResearchandMarketing.com.

In 2023, the ancestry/genealogy segment is expected to account for the largest share of the global direct-to-consumer genetic testing market. Factors such as increased consumer interest & curiosity regarding ancestry, technological advancements to make genetic testing accessible, strong advertising & marketing by the companies, high racial diversity and interracial mix in some countries, and the advantages such as convenience & accessibility are driving the growth of this segment.


DNA testing is a powerful method for verifying family documents. It can help confirm or refute relationships between family members and verify family documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, or adoption papers.

For example, if a birth certificate claims two people are siblings, a DNA test can help confirm this. The DNA test can also show clear relationships between other relatives such as great-aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-great-grandparents.



Freebie Friday for Genealogy Hunters

Back by popular requests, we’re offering genealogy and ancestry seekers will find the following freebies to delve into:

  • Visit the National Archives for countless images, text, blogs, other helpful resources about Black ancestors.
  • Inquire about home movies captured by members of your family. Ask about those reels that may still be around someone’s home in attics, basements, desk drawers. You may have to transfer the media to another source, yet it is worth it. Why? Many of the videos end up in thrift stores and discarded. Guess what? Those same videos are picked up by government and private agencies and become rich content. Take a look at a short http://ww.pbs.org/video/john-lewis-get-way-official-trailer/compilation of videos from personal and public videographers.
  • Check the 26 free genealogy websites. You may wish to sign up after giving the sites the test drives.
  • Check out the “Story of Black Folk” … tracing family histories in the Hudson, NY area.
  • The above referenced Black family history site is part of the larger, free calendar community of genealogy conferences, events and more. Check out Conference Keeper Calendar.
  • Join your hometown or regional Black genealogy groups such as this large one in Pennsylvania.
  • Geneanet has 44,000 free postcards without subscription. You can just put in your location of your ancestor and they will show you what they have for that town. — Submitted by Karen Harrison 

In honor of our ancestral Mother’s Days

In the words of our family’s maternal matriarch, the late Lou Edna Wilks Robinson, “every day is Mother’s Day.”

Born in 1892 as the oldest daughter born in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, to Melissa Catherine Gray and Robert Wilkes, our “Grandma Robinson” was the glue that kept our family together.

We’ve often wondered how our ancestral mothers were able to accomplish so much in their lives. Except for Grandma Robinson’s birth to two children, including our maternal grandmother, Mary Helen Wilks Owen Douthy, most mothers ‘in her day’ bore several children. Midwives brought babies, especially those of African American heritage, into this world. Indoor plumbing was nonexistent for our ancestral mothers. They grew food, drew well from waters, cooked, cleaned and managed the households. They raised other people’s children, they were our teachers, loyal church members and builders of great legacies admist the harsh societal conditions that often pushed our ancestral mothers to the least known positions.

Yet, our ancestral mothers rarely complained about their fates. Instead, they often rejoiced about the present and future that always included the achievements — known and unknown — of their children and lineage.

We honor you, ancestral mothers.

Official start of Mother’s Day in the USA

In 1914, a few years before the birth of our maternal Grandmother Mary Helen, the nation received an official declaration from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, to honor mothers on the second Sunday in May. The recognition began simple enough: To honor mothers in celebration of peace.

The origins of Mother’s Day as celebrated in the United States date back to the 19th century. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

These clubs later became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873 Howe campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Other early Mother’s Day pioneers include Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist who inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. The duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering, meanwhile, both worked to organize a Mothers’ Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some have even called Hering “the father of Mothers’ Day.”


A few current-day Mother’s Day facts

  • The honoring of mothers has reached a feverish commercial pitch with an estimated $36 billion being allocated in U.S. receipts in 2023.
  • There are approximately 43.5 million women who are considered mothers in the United States.
  • More than 100 global countries celebrate their mothers on various days on the calendar.
  • The white carnation is the official flower of Mother’s Day.
  • Mother’s Day is the busiest day for restaurants in the U.S.

Happy Mother’s Day.


It’s global DNA Day! April 25, 2023

Free workshops, webinars and other sources of information are offered. We’ve listed several activities.

It’s official name is Deoxyribonucleic acid and that is why it is shortened to DNA to describe “a self-replicating material that is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.”

Genealogists often refer to DNA as putting the “gene” back in genealogy. The Good Genes Genealogy team (Maternal first cousins Mark Owen and Ann Wead Kimbrough) is DNA tested. We are not scientists who can provide you with the details on how the genetic makeup is key to breaking through brick walls and other delays in tracking our family histories. Yet, we’ve utilized DNA in our processes that have helped to build about family members.

Today and this week, we invite you to learn about DNA and its applications to genealogy searches. There are countless free workshops and other sources of information. As you get inside of the virtual and in-person sessions, remember a few key things about the DNA journey:


Changing the world through the unsung missions of Black midwives

About 80 miles southeast of Atlanta, Georgia, lies Greene County. In Greene County, Georgia as it was in Greene County, Missouri, and across the nation, Black women midwives were and still are highly regarded.

It was widely proved that midwives saved lives — babies and their mothers. They birthed presidents, preachers, teachers and several family members who will attest to their value in caring for mothers in many communities where healthcare facilities were miles away or nonexistent.

The worth of midwives is especially highlighted in recent data that was shored up with the release of 2021 data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that showed a sharp increase in infant mortality, especially among African American women. A century ago, the infant mortality rates were much more severe, yet midwives were credited in successfully bringing babies into the world and saving their mothers. Even slave owners knew this truth.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine found:

We estimated that, relative to current coverage, a substantial increase in coverage of midwife-delivered interventions could avert 41% of maternal deaths, 39% of neonatal deaths, and 26% of stillbirths, equating to 2·2 million deaths averted per year by 2035. Even a modest increase in coverage of midwife-delivered interventions could avert 22% of maternal deaths, 23% of neonatal deaths, and 14% of stillbirths, equating to 1·3 million deaths averted per year by 2035.

Nove A, Friberg IK, de Bernis L, McConville F, Moran AC, Najjemba M, Ten Hoope-Bender P, Tracy S, Homer CSE. Potential impact of midwives in preventing and reducing maternal and neonatal mortality and stillbirths: a Lives Saved Tool modelling study. Lancet Glob Health. 2021 Jan;9(1):e24-e32. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(20)30397-1. Epub 2020 Dec 1. PMID: 33275948; PMCID: PMC7758876.

Midwives Matter

Early African American midwives were important members of their community, even among enslaved individuals. Slave owners used these medical practitioners to ensure the health of their reproducing enslaved women and their newborn infants to expand their labor force. It was also common for midwives to attend to the slave master’s wives during birth as well.


This midwife account describes the importance of recognizing Black midwives for their contributions to societal good: “… the story of a poor white boy delivered by a black midwife slave that grew up to be the president that freed 3.5 million black slaves in the United States, and was killed for doing so.” — From The Midwife Slave

What ancestral researchers should consider

There are documentaries, articles, scholarly works and stories within families about the importance and legacy of midwives.

  1. All births — whether at home or in hospitals — are recorded in each municipality’s Vital Records Division. The attending midwife, parents and/or physician are allowed to sign the paperwork.
  2. Time frames are usually required to register births. If the time frames are not adhered to, or should errors appear on birth certificates based on sources authorized to make the changes, the municipalities are allowed to issue delayed birth certificates.
  3. Because midwives have more than records to report, their stories are important to learning more about families’ ancestors. Some midwives kept journals, shared birth stories with family members and were the keepers of intimate secrets, the midwives are great sources for breaking down brick walls.

Historically, Black midwives are archived among famous global citizens. Check out this site for more information.

Read more: Changing the world through the unsung missions of Black midwives

Genealogy Find: Original Beat Box(es)

Check out the oriiginal human beat box group. Their vocal moves are amazing.

One of the benefits of researching our ancestors is the “find.” In this case, find is pure gold through the super talented siblings who set the human “beat box” standards. They are the Mills Brothers.

While combing through the online ancestry files of the Good Genes Genealogy Services’ grandfather, Eugene Owen, Jr., this remembrance was round. Our grandfather left Omaha, Nebraska for Los Angeles, Calif. to pursue his dream of becoming a Mills Brother-like entertainer. It was the 1940s and he left a family behind in Omaha, including little girls who would grow up and become our mothers of Good Genes Genealogy Services team members.

Our grandfather’s goal was to form a singing group become as popular as the Mills Brothers, a musical team of siblings whose 40+ years of success began in the 1930s. Our grandfather never achieved the same fame. He likely broke the hearts of our grandmother, “Mama” Helen Wilkes Owen Douthy, and her children and other family members. There are joys and pains in researching our families’ histories and this is an example of wading through all of the materials to get to the truth.

Yet, each time we hear the Mills Brothers’ recordings and watch the more than 20 movies that they appeared in during their stellar career, we think of Grandpa Owen.


Enslaved Africans warded off evil spirits with “Haint Blue” house color

The tradition continued with Gullah Geechees


Look up the next time you walk up to Southern homes, especially those along the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina and Georgia. On the exterior undersides and interiors, you will likely find the unique color of “Haint Blue” on those structures.

The long-forgotten history of haint — another word for evil spirits — began 300+ years ago. That is when Atlantic coastline Gullah Geechees who represented free or runaway African American slaves, painted their porch ceilings with the faint blue-green dye. It was intended to stave off evil spirits, ghosts and any potential hauntings. It was believed that if the spirits saw the haint blue painting on the underside of porches, they would not dare cross the thresholds that resembled the ocean waters.

According to Gullah folk traditions, blue ceilings and blue doors can keep unwanted specters, phantoms, spooks, and apparitions from strolling in through the front door. It fools them into thinking that the door is part of the sky, that the porch is surrounded by water, that the house is protected by something sublime, more powerful and permanent than a coat of paint. It’s trickery though design, and trickery is something the Gullah people knew well.


Besides the interior ceilings of porches, the haint blue paint shows up mostly on Southern homes’ front doors, shutters and other key locations.

At this Gullah Geechee home on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, painted doors and shutters keep out evil spirits called "haints." At this Gullah Geechee home on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, painted doors and shutters keep out evil spirits called “haints.” DAWNA MOORE / ALAMY
Photo by Alina Autumn on Pexels.com


Finding genealogy linkages through Depression-era photographs

Wading through the thousands of files in the Library of Congress, this one stood out because it is the housing projects where my father, Dr. Rodney S. Wead, lived while boy growing up in Omaha, Nebraska.

We don’t know the man and young people in the picture. It was taken three years after Wead was born; his family had not moved into the housing development. In fact, Wead said that they were delighted when they moved into the Logan Fontanelle Housing facility because it was a “big step up” from their impoverished housing a few blocks away in a crowded rooming house.

Found my father’s housing unit

Keep searching archives. I did. Once my father viewed the photo (see below), he identified the now famous individuals whose families lived in Logal Fontenelle.

Often, we are hit with brick walls in our ancestral searches. There are thousands of photographs that were taken across the country of its citizens — especially Black Americans — as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal or Works Progress Administration program that included Omaha during the 1930s.


Looking for “gold” in your genealogy pursuits?

Colored farmer find $16,000 buried in land in 1897

Always keep searching for your ancestors and their stories. Here’s one about someone’s “colored” ancestor, D.H. Johnson, who was farming in February 1897. He hit hard ground while plowing a field near Hogansville, GA. He kept removing the layers of stone until he located what was estimated to be $16,000 in coins, including some from foreign soil.

Today, that would amount to approximately $600,000 according to government calculations. According to this newspaper clipping, Johnson placed the money in the bank. “…the theory is that whoever owned the money hid it out until some secure time, when they would look for it again” the article reported.

Takeaways for Genealogy Researchers

There are likely several ‘pots of gold’ hidden in the earth or within walls or in between mattresses by individuals hiding their assets from others for various reasons.

  1. Follow your spiritual intuition and recall conversations, other memories from your ancestors.
  2. Act on it with a general sense of wisdom. For instance, if you are pointed in a certain direction, believe it.
  3. Enjoy the journey as it will always yield surprising results.


Reactions to discovering our roots

Celebrity Activist shocked with her “Mayflower” ancestors while Canadian celebrates his Black ancestors

We are all connected. Ongoing findings among the skilled genealogy and DNA researchers and amateurs, confirm such.

The following two examples offer great hope to those who are steadfast in searching for the accurate stories of our ancestors.

Finding her Mayflower roots

Our favorite PBS show, “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” regularly features many genealogical surprises among its celebrity guests. A recent episode features well-known human rights activist, professor and author, Angela Davis. Among the startling findings for Davis is that her ancestral roots are traced to the original families who sailed to the early United States on the Mayflower vessel in the 1600s. The Mayflower travelers are attributed to slavery.

Davis’ reaction to Gates’ revelation that was based on sound genealogy and DNA research by his team, went viral with more than four million views in the first 24 hours of the social media posts.

African Roots found in Scottish Canadian

From the Orillamatters.com service

Paul Barber, also a photography hobbyist, from Ontario, Canada, was featured in a local newspaper article to discuss his maternal family, the Hendersons. He traced his family’s travel from Virginia to Canada. He referred to his brick walls as being “stuck in the mud” with his “three times great grandparents. That is, until he dug a little deeper. And deeper.

Barber took the DNA analysis, and it yielded more results. That’s where he learned of his roots in Benin and Togo. It is the time and place where the African Slave Trade was recorded. He said that is how he began to take apart the brick wall, albeit he knew of his Scottish ancestors. It was at that point that Barber said he landed upon a scenario that “he was not fond of.”

What he learned and how he used slower methods of research — regular mail — and current technology to locate his full story, is worth the time one will spend in his recent, hour-long talk. He speaks of the highs and lows of locating ancestors and learning how his family came to include Black people. “I have to know,” he said.

Help for the amateur genealogy researcher

The two examples provided in this blog are examples of the possibilities for amateur-to-professional ancestry researchers. Our pro tips:

  1. Develop a straight-forward, uncomplicated plan to conduct research.
  2. Follow Barber’s tenacity to stick with a plan to fully research your family.
  3. Wade through the valleys and hills.
  4. Celebrate all progress.
  5. Share, publish your results.


Honoring Lesser Known Women Ancestors

In every family, there are countless examples of women who courageously and quietly endured emotional, physical, societal, financial and other pressures. Yet, their lives crafted our family legacies. We are grateful.

To honor them during Women’s History Month, dig a little deeper in your family archives and in the public domain to share their stories of inspiration, even if it seems that they led so-called ordinary lives. To help you get started in honoring our female ancestors, here are a few extraordinary Black women’s stories.

Hanging in Chicago’s DuSable Museum is this quilt handcrafted by a former slave, Melvina Young.

Hand-stitched quilt cover, late 19th century Ms. Young’s “work likely created this quilt cover as free person, having been emancipated after the Civil War ended.  Many enslaved people worked in the homes of the plantation owners.  A common domestic role was that of seamstress, and Ms. Young probably learned to sew and quilt while working in her owner’s Tennessee home.”

Gift of Daisy Lewis in Memory of Melvina Young
DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center

Black women were vocal about atrocities of the post-Civil War and openly advocated for better health, educational, societal, family and living arrangements. Some of their compelling stories are found here.

Stagecoach Mary is legendary in many historical circles.

Violette Anderson: In 1926, she became the first Black Women who earned the right to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court

Shown below in The Broad Ax newspaper (July 29, 1922). Courtesy Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.


$$$$s for your Genealogy Research

Scholarships are regularly awarded to beginning to experienced genealogists. Here are a couple of great opportunities:

Frazine K. Taylor African American Research Scholarship 

The Frazine K. Taylor African American Research Scholarship (application due by 1 March each year) is open to anyone committed to expanding their knowledge of African American genealogical research.  See attachment for more information.
BCG Paul Edward Sluby Sr. Scholarship for African American Students
application deadline 15 March 2023

This new scholarship, provided by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), will be awarded to up to three African Americans “to participate in national genealogical institutes.” The award will “cover up to $1,700 of the tuition, travel, and lodging expenses.” The application requires an essay and a sample of genealogical research. Awards will be made in May 2023 and will be usable for 2024 institutes. To discover more about the scholarship and fill out the application, check out its website.

The scholarship information is courtesy of Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. Metro- Atlanta Chapter www.aahgsatl.org


The DNA and Mental Health Benefits in Genealogy and Ancestry research

Join us for the free, final weekend workshop

The Good Genes Genealogy Services duo and Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center team up for the last weekend of the free genealogy workshops. The hour-long session is designed to inspire the beginners to seasoned genealogy researchers, and provide everyone with the tools to dig deeper into their families’ colorful histories.

Join us, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023!


How to interview your family members

It’s tough to ask tough questions

Have you ever wanted to ask questions of your relatives and backed away because it was not “a good time?” We have.

It’s time to get busy. Grab a notepad, make sure your audio and video recorders are sufficiently stocked with new batteries, put on your listening ears and initiate your family research.

It may be uncomfortable for some relatives to open us. That’s natural. Learning what to ask and who to ask questions of, are key to your success. Before you get knee deep in researching family history, make a list of your prospective interview subjects by simply asking, “do you mind if I interview you (or discuss with you) about our family history?”

Once you get to “yes,” you are on your way to discovering the gems and rough spots in your family.

How to handle interviews

You should seek information from everyone in your family, friends, neighbors, clergy, co-workers of your loved one. Whoever is willing to open up and share, are great informants.

  1. Often the oldest person you can speak to in your family, is the best source for robust information about your loved ones.
  2. Daughters and sons of elderly parents are often great sources of information to aid in your genealogy research.
  3. Neighbors, cousins and other relatives of all ages are great sources of information. Our maternal great grandfather’s delayed birth certificates lists a relative and neighbor as informants for Eugene Gibson Owen, Sr. to obtain his official documentation some 56 years after his birth. See below:
Great Grandfather Eugene G. Owen, Sr.’s delayed birth certificate from the state of Tennessee. He was 56 years old when received.

Who should your interview?

  1. Ask your interviewees if they are comfortable being recorded by video and audio devices, or other means. Negotiate for your best mutual benefits.
  2. This is not the time to pretend you are Oprah Winfrey or another celebrated interviewer who may garner as much attention as the interview subject.
  3. Remember that some matters are touchy subjects. Be sensitive to the questions that may not immediately or ever yield you answers from the person(s) you interview.
  4. Be humble. Humility goes a long way in family discussions.
  5. Listen. Listen. Hear them. Listen. Don’t overtalk your interview subject.
  6. Do not judge their comments. Their comments may not agree with today’s understanding of similar situations. For instance, some of our relatives stressed the importance of being silent against stiff situations involving racist behaviors towards them. Some interviewers may prefer to speak up, or vice versa in such situations.
  7. Organization matters. Establish your goals in interviewing your loved ones through a series of inquiries you have developed out of natural curiosity and “things” you may have heard or been told through family grapevines.
  8. Be flexible. Your established goals to glean certain information may not be forthcoming. In some cases, you may have to adapt your interview collection methods to meet your relatives where they are. For instance, I provided one of my loved ones with the opportunity to record their story. He mailed the cassette recordings to me. I had to locate a cassette player to download the important family data.

Schedule time to meet

The more your relatives age, the more questions arise about what the loved ones know that can add value to your family’s history.

  1. Schedule a mutually convenient time to hold a virtual or in person meeting.
  2. The interviewer should make the request and establish the approximate length of the meeting. In person meetings tend to be longer than online meetings. Allow for the extra time.
  3. Plan for multiple meetings to gain a wide berth of information about your family.

Location matters

  1. Where you meet is key to the success of the information you obtain.
  2. In person meetings should also be guided by where the interviewee wishes to dish out the desired family information.
  3. In some cases, the interviewer may wish to recommend the location for the discussion. For instance, I asked my father to take the most comfortable chair in my home to begin our series of discussions. My maternal grandmother preferred a lunch date. My maternal grandfather was confined to a skilled nursing facility. That’s where I retrieved, we spent three days discussing our family.

What you should ask

There are myriad of questions to ask your loved ones in anticipation of great information about your family. One half of the Good Genes Genealogy team — Ann Wead Kimbrough — is a career journalist who’s interviewed perhaps thousands of individuals.

  1. Start with the basics in questions and allow it to build from there. The basic questions are “who, what, when, where, why and how?” Samples of what to objtain from your planned family discussions are found on the information sheets that Good Genes Genealogy Services has provided via its Genealogy Store.
  2. The questions provided in our e-workbook that was designed for the two workshops held on Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, 2023 in partnership with Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center, are designed to get at the core of the results needed to effectively conduct genealogy and ancestry research.

Interpreting results

It’s time to edit.

  1. Download your interviews onto another device as soon after your interviews as possible. In journalism circles, we were encouraged to review our reporting and begin writing while the information “was still hot.”
  2. Add notations in the margins of your written notes, or highlight your online reporting, or mark the time codes on your broadcast recording equipment when key points are made.
  3. Check out the information that you obtained. It is easy to get addresses or street names incorrect by your informants. There are plenty of historical maps, street directories, church records, ancestry, governmental and other data available to check the facts.
  4. In some cases, check back with the informants after interviews to help clarify the matters discussed.
  5. Produce your results in formats that are comfortable with you and family members. There are several genealogy books, other guides and even family Bibles that are great sources of recording the information from your well-earned interviews.

Happy researching!


Do not NAP on DNA results

Ann Wead Kimbrough just received her updated DNA results. She is prone to take daytime naps. Or is she?

Here’s what Ancestry.com found:

Taking naps

Ann Lineve Wead Kimbrough’s results

Ann Lineve Wead Kimbrough, your DNA suggests you’re equally likely to be a napper or non-napper.

Based on your genetics, you’re right in the middle—neither more nor less likely than average to take naps.

Nature and nurture

Your DNA affects whether or not you take naps, but your environment makes a bigger impact.

Making the most of your naps

If you’re a napper, keep it short—10 to 20 minutes is likely all you need. Longer naps can leave you groggy. To avoid nighttime wakefulness, end your naps before 3:00 in the afternoon.

Napping can curb your appetite

Missing out on sleep can make you feel hungrier. So taking naps can help you avoid overeating (especially if you nap through dessert).BACK TO SURVEY

Discover more

Tell us about yourself and your family through some simple survey questions. They’re fun and easy to answer.

Your responses help to improve our products, such as your ethnicity estimate and Traits, and to develop new features, which we hope will bring you a deeper understanding of yourself and your family connections.

We may also share aggregated responses, to give you insights into how your answers compare to others. You can always change or delete the responses on this page. Learn more.

Your answers may also be used for scientific research if you agreed to our Informed consent.OK, got it.

Discover more traits

  • NEWMorning or night person
  • Remembering dreams
  • Risk taking
  • Omega-3
  • Vitamin B12

Compare traits

See which traits are unique to you and which ones you share with your DNA matches.

Find out

Genetics & other factors

What affects whether you’re a napper?


Ancestry scientists found a lot of DNA markers (over 46,000) connected to taking naps. Some other markers may play a role too.

Environmental factors

People whose schedules require them to rise early tend to take more naps–as do folks whose nighttime sleep is interrupted. And of course, having a daytime schedule that allows for naps makes napping possible in the first place.

What is my result based on?

Your result is based only on your DNA. We compared your DNA to the DNA of more than 650,000 people who answered the question, “Do you take naps?” The large number of responses makes the data reliable. This test has no medical purpose. Nothing in this report is a diagnosis of a health condition or medical disorder. This report is not a substitute for medical advice. Before making any lifestyle or dietary changes, or if you have any questions about how your genetic profile might relate to your health or wellness, please contact your healthcare provider.


From the Philly Voice: “Contributions of Black, Indigenous soldiers detailed in new collection at Museum of the American Revolution”

(Thank you, maggie@phillyvoice.com for this great article)

Nearly 200 historic documents are being digitally archived for public use. Several are on display as part of the Black founders exhibit, including a discharge paper signed by George Washington

The Museum of the American Revolution is partnering with Ancestry to digitize its Patriots of Color archive, which features nearly 200 rare documents bearing the names and stories of Black and Native American soldiers who served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.


The Patriots of Color archive will be fully digitized and made available online at no cost to the public thanks to a partnership with the genealogy website Ancestry, museum officials said Friday. The Old City museum acquired the documents in 2022 from a private collection, following contributions from several donors.

“At least 5,000 men of color fought in the Continental Army, but their stories aren’t as known as they should be,” said R. Scott Stephenson, president and CEO of the museum. “This archive allows us to explore the extraordinary lives of men who helped to secure independence, yet who have not received the recognition they deserve as American Founders. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Ancestry to share these rich human stories with the world.” 

The documents include Continental Army records related to Jeffrey Brace, who chronicled his life from enslavement to freedom in the 1810 memoir “The Blind African Slave.” 

Brace, born in Africa, was not seized by enslavers until he was about 16 years old. He was shipped to Barbados, where he was treated brutally by an English seaman. He fought in the Seven Years War and was purchased by “widow Stiles” in Woodbury, Connecticut in 1768.

The widow taught Brace to read, and he served in the Continental Army. After being discharged in 1783, he was freed by Stiles’ son. His nickname — Pomp London — appears on several documents in the archive. Several years ago, Rhonda Brace, one of Brace’s descendants, visited the home in Woodbury and the descendants of the family that once enslaved her grandfather, six times removed. 

“They actually brought us down, my dad and I went — my mother wouldn’t go — we went down to what they believe were the slave quarters in the house,” Brace said. “That was very, yeah … But it was something just to be on the property.” 


Key to breaking “brick walls”: Ancestry and genealogy information collectors

Some genealogy and ancestry guides and books used by GGGS’ Ann Wead Kimbrough for her research.

Get forms for family research

Go to the Good Genes Genealogy Services website and utilize the forms that we made available especially for participants in our two-part Sankofa Genealogy workshop in partnership with Hillside International Truth Center.

Since the first workshop on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, several participants have telephoned, texted, emailed and visited their relatives to gather information needed for their individual family searches. It is healing and helpful for your family and friends to discover their histories.

Way to get the book?

  1. Go to Good Genes Genealogy Services‘ website.
  2. Then go to the Genealogy Store link.
  3. Select e-book.
  4. Customer information will be available to be populated for completion of the $5 workbook.

Thank you!

Please join our Hillside family in this month’s Sankofa activities and fellowship.


Legacy partners present free, Third Annual Sankofa Genealogy workshops

Get your e-workbook

Join us at 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, for a valuable workshop via Zoom designed to prompt participants to find their “lost” loved ones and gain joy, satisfaction, identity and spiritual uplift on the journey. The workshop focuses on Black Genealogy and Ancestry family research and more.

Sankofa Genealogy workshop attendees are asked to purchase the companion workbook. Go to our website and select “Genealogy Store.” You will be able to download your copy after selecting the book cover image (see below) to pay for your book. All proceeds offset our free and low-cost, year-round genealogy consulting services. Kimbrough and Owen are the co-authors and Veverly Byrd-Davis is the book designer and illustrator of the cover.

Part two and final 2023 Sankofa Genealogy workshop will be held at the same time, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. Details will be provided next week.

Partners sponsoring this workshop.

Ann Wead Kimbrough and Mark Owen, first cousins and genealogists of GGGS, will facilitate the workshops for the third year.
Workshop partner leadership: Presiding Bishop Jack L. Bomar, Rev. Sharon Hodnett (Zoom ologist) and Dr. Marian Gamble (Assisting Zoom ologist)

Zoom meeting details


Meeting ID: 861 4830 0328
Passcode: 02112023
Dial: 929 205 6099 US


Looking for our ancestry love in all the right places

Genealogy and ancestry “hunters” come in all ages.

‘Back in the day,’ our ancestors’ version of social media was human contact. Stories were shared by village griots about our roots. Physical signs such as smoke were used to communicate. Entries were manually entered into family Bibles. Long visits with food-in-hands were made to families whose loved ones transitioned. Telephone calls were made on rotary dial devices. Telephone company operators connected calls between lines.

Storytelling among family via original stories and those read from informative books, are valuable to pass along family history.

Today, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of daily opportunities for the novice to serious genealogy and ancestry “hunters” to find details about their loved ones. One of the obvious, natural sources of data gathering is apparent in our daily doses of media. Whether current TV newscasts or historical clippings from newspapers, there are photos and stories waiting for us to find and connect them to our ancestors.

Social media is a great source to find relatives. Social media is not limited to Meta, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn or Pinterest. In 2019, Meriam-Webster Dictionary defined social media as:

“… forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)…”

Meriam-Webster Dictionary

There are so many sites that apply to this definition and that is where the Good Genes Genealogy Team invites you to begin or resume your ancestry research. According to Datareportal, nearly 5 billion social media users are regular users on thousands of different sites. On average, 7.2 sites are visited each month by users. The top reason why we utilize social media is to remain in contact with living and deceased friends and families. Often, we receive news about the passing of a loved one from social media sources.

To help jog your brain, here are a few of the platforms that are part of our social media community:

  • Church websites
  • Sorority and fraternal websites
  • Community blogs and vlogs
  • Every app on cellular phones
  • Government resources
  • Newspapers
  • TV and Radio
  • Event, show bookings
  • Tradeshows
  • Quiz sites
  • Dissertation sites
  • Publications, ranging from scholarly to trade
  • Lots more sites are revealed on Datareportal:

Here’s an important tip on locating historical points on the QuizDaily website. It opened clues to one of our client’s family members.

“In 1832, the Georgia Infirmary became the first hospital for African Americans when it opened on Christmas Eve. Established by the Georgia General Assembly and a $10,000 grant from the estate of a merchant and minister named Thomas F. Williams, the Georgia Infirmary was built 10 miles south of Savannah, Georgia. In 1974, the infirmary was renamed the Adult Day Center; it is still an operating facility.”


What you see and what you get in finding and understanding your Black, African and Caribbean roots in the U.K.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the worldwide Census data collection and distribution, there are straightforward and confusing results within the same reports. In the U.K. (England and Wales), the percentage of whites, for example, increased in the latest Census due to:

The ethnic groups used in the 2021 Census were slightly different from the 2011 Census ethnic groups.

There were 2 changes in 2021 – the ‘Roma’ group was added under the ‘white’ ethnic group, and people could write their own response under the ‘black African’ ethnic group.

As a result, figures for the white other and black African and black other ethnic groups may not be directly comparable for 2011 and 2021, although the groups concerned account for very low percentages of the overall population.


The Romani, or Roma as they are known, were once the EU’s largest minority group and now the addition of their population has increased the “white” column in the 2022 U.K. Census data. Romas are counted in the 2022 U.K. Census — actually in two categories. Why? That’s the straight forward-yet confusing data that is found in the U.K. Census.

As a result, the change in how whites and African-connected heritages are reported resulted in the latest data released about the ethnic, Caribbean, African and white populations in England and Wales. The latest results are not comparable to other years.

Over time, here’s what shows up as percentages of the entire population. Note that what I derived from the overall data will not equal 100 percent. See the full table of data:

Population %2021 %2011 %2001

Black African2.51.80.9
Black other0.50.50.2
Mixed White/Black African0.40.30.2
Mixed White/Black Caribbean0.90.80.5
Black Caribbean1.01.11.1
White British74.480.587.5
White other6.24.42.6
Notice all “Black” categories

The Gov.UK December 2022 report on its ethnic facts and figures are as follows:

  • According to the 2021 Census, the total population of England and Wales was 59.6 million and 81.7% of the population was white.
  • People from Asian ethnic groups made up the second largest percentage of the population (9.3%), followed by black (4.0%), mixed (2.9%) and other (2.1%) ethnic groups.
  • Out of the 19 ethnic groups, white British people made up the largest percentage of the population (74.4%), followed by people in the white ‘other’ (6.2%) and Indian (3.1%) ethnic groups.
  • From 2011 to 2021, the percentage of people in the white British ethnic group went down from 80.5% to 74.4%.
  • The percentage of people in the white ‘other’ ethnic group went up from 4.4% to 6.2% – the largest percentage point increase out of all ethnic groups.
  • The number of people who identified as ‘any other ethnic background’ went up from 333,100 to 923,800.

The take away

  1. Confusing data and materials as recorded by government sources, further the “brick wall” frustration. Don’t be. Dig deeper to get results.
  2. Census data — whether U.S. or U.K. or any other county, area — should always be deeply examined.
  3. Once you review the data, go deeper. Click on all links and take hints to follow the accuracy of the data.
  4. The goal is to gain clarity about what’s behind the statistics, materials and the conditions the results are produced.
  5. The other primary goal is to learn the truth about where our ancestors lived, how they lived, and more.


It’s here! Your next e-workbook is ready in time for our exciting Sankofa Month Genealogy workshop

The Good Genes Genealogy Services Team is pleased to offer our third annual Black Genealogy workshops, 10 – 11 a.m., Saturdays, Feb. 11 and 18, 2023, in partnership with Hillside International Truth Center, Atlanta, GA. We remain in a virtual setting via Zoom.


Meeting ID: 861 4830 0328
Passcode: 02112023
Dial: 929 205 6099 US

Hillside’s leadership generously is offering our workshops for free. Cousins Ann Wead Kimbrough and Mark S. Owen, genealogists, are the facilitators for their church’s genealogy workshops. The workshops are open to our worldwide audience.

Kimbrough and Owen specialize in “breaking down brick walls” to find the “hard-to-find” Black ancestors whose histories are usually intertwined with others from contrasting backgounds, such as former slave owners. Kimbrough and Owen have several success stories in helping genealogy workshop participants and other clients to locate their “lost” loved ones. Hillside’s Presiding Bishop Jack L. Bomar, is among those who learned a “great blessing” of family history through the Good Genes Genealogy Services’ research about his family.

Sankofa Genealogy workshop attendees are asked to purchase the companion workbook. Go to our website and select “Genealogy Store.” You will be able to download your copy after selecting the book cover image (see below) to pay for your book. All proceeds offset our free and low-cost, year-round genealogy consulting services. Kimbrough and Owen are the co-authors and Veverly Byrd-Davis is the book designer and illustrator of the cover.

As a preview to the first workshop, we will explore the “natural” and online ways to find your ancestors whose heritage is from the African diaspora. Participants will also learn helpful tips and receive encouragement from the valued benefit of locating and celebrating our individual and collective Black family ancestries.


Black History Month Genealogy Tour

Don’t you love Black History Month? Although February is the shortest month in days of our calendar year, it is nonetheless a time to pause, respect and relish the fantastic achievements of African American, Black and Caribbean ancestors whose works and lives were largely ignored or never revealed.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

That’s where your great genealogy research comes in. This month, hopefully the multitude of U.S. and global Black History Month recognitions, will prompt you to uncover new finds from your family. Tour museums. Visit special sites. Listen to great lectures. Watch broadcasts on public broadcasting and other media channels that provide insight on the lives that were courageously and well lived.

Thanks to the creation of and steadfast lobbying of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, we celebrate Black History Month. Woodson was the second black person to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard University, received two degrees from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor degree in Literature from Berea College. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Today, some may shrug our shoulders about Woodson’s academic, literature, social and educational achievements. Yet, pause for a moment and think about when and where and how he accomplished so much after being born to former slaves and in poverty in 1875 to former slaves in Virginia. He worked smart during the era with remnants of the slave codes and other racial threats to his life. Yet, he authored several books, founded major organizations, and although he was never married and had no children, Woodson’s influence is an integral part of Black families around the globe.

Here are a few of the exciting happenings this month to honor Black History, beginning with the Good Genes Genealogy Services workshop:

  • Good Genes Genealogy Services is presenting its 3rd annual Sankofa Black Genealogy Workshop in partnership with Hillside International Truth Center. It’s free and you will be encouraged to purchase our workbook. Coming soon!
Metro Atlanta Chapter of the AAHGS is sponsoring this event with the Georgia Archives

Please add your Black History Month events and the Good Genes Genealogy Services team will continue to update the great events throughout the month of February 2023.


Get this sweet treat for Black History Month: Recipes for Success e-book

Thank you for your support. It’s available on our Lulu Publishing site and on Feb. 1, 2023, on all other sites.



A prayer for our ancestors

Whenever a prayer is publicly offered in honor of our ancestors, we are honored to publish it:

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com
From Hillside Truth International Center, Atlanta, GA
       Individually and collectively, we are part of a never-ending story. The story has no beginning and no end.
Our Ancestors are the keepers of the stories and the secrets. Our Ancestors are reminders of the sacredness of our individual and collective lives. Their truths were passed on to us and continue to live in and through us. We can always tap in and receive the wisdom of their life experience, which is alive and well in our DNA.  
     I listen to the whispers of my Ancestors and the echoes of their souls. I am grateful to know that I am a part of a spiritual lineage that is anchored in divine wisdom. I am guided to do what is right and honorable. I am part of the chain of life.
The stories I inherited and tell today liberate those who come tomorrow. Thank you, Faith, in me, through me, as me, around me, through the Christ within. And so it is.
 Daily Thoughts from the HillCopyright: Hillside International Truth Center, Inc.Bishop Dr. Jack L. Bomar – Executive BishopBishop Dr. Barbara L. King – Founder Renew/Subscribe: https://HillsideInternational.org/bookstore
With the elders is wisdom; and in length of days, understanding.
Job 12:12

After 90 years: Amazing genealogy research techniques locates famous ancestor

Charles I. Brown gets proper burial

A founder of the 109-year-old international Black male fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., was long “missing.” He is now found.

For serious genealogy researchers, it is a joyful and encouraging example of how customized techniques resulted in a fraternity victory and for Black genealogy research.

The absence of Charles I. Brown on earth was recorded beginning in 1924. In 1999, a small group of tenacious Sigmas, led by their “International Historian Mark “Mallet” Pacich, began a search on the whereabouts of their founder.” In 2015, the men of Phi Beta Sigma, found Brown’s body and they commenced with burying him with proper rites. Facts about his whereabouts during the missing years are still trickling into the fraternity.

More than 1,000 men and friends of Phi Beta Sigma at the dedication ceremony that included a church installation for the late Charles I. Brown

“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.

Charles I. Brown, third from left, with his two other founders (right of him) and members of the Alpha Chapter, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Howard University

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 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.


Details of the successful search

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.

August 27, 1885 – December 21, 1981


Helping children plant and build their photo and other modern family trees

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).

Yet, as a child, I could have been building the bits and pieces of information that I was able to glean from family gatherings. I was also nosey and wanted to hear the stories from the elders and cousins about what life was like for them in settings different than mine in Omaha, Nebraska. Child-friendly genealogy chart builders like the free ones featured on the National Archives sites are a great start for the young people.

Check out the other freebie from the National Archives. It’s a fresh look in the genealogy tree building exercises.


How the passing of ancestors brings us life

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.


  1. 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.
  2. The best way to achieve the best written obituaries is through preparation that is based on accurate written and oral information.
  3. 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.
  4. The way the services are rendered are usually the best examples of how persons lived. Take notes.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Celebrate the lives of our ancestors. They deserve our respect, understanding and accurate depictions of their lives.  

Free worksheet to uncover the hard-to-find, brick wall family information

One of the best, free worksheets to conquer brick walls in Black genealogy searches is found in the easy-to-access and free databases of the National Archives.

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.

Photo by Thirdman on Pexels.com

The worksheet is a big help.


The forgotten stories of “Black Magnolias” from Oakland Cemetery

First in a series

Jihan Hurse, guide, Atlanta, GA.’s Oakland Cemetery’s “Black Magnolias” tour

Atlanta, GA — On a chilly Saturday winter morning, Oakland Cemetery’s “Black Magnolias” Tour Guide and Author Jihan Hurse, excitedly gives highlights of the Black women who lie among its 70,000 “residents” in the city’s historic cemetery.

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.

Former slaves strike for better pay and work conditions in 1881.

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.


Check out this wonderful Black genealogy program

Black Homesteaders of the South with Bernice A. Bennett

On Saturday, February 4, 2023, 12 – 1:30 PM, the African American History and Culture Museum will host its African American History and Culture Event.

It will be held on the Concourse, Oprah Winfrey Theater + streaming

It’s free. It’s also recommended that you get tickets or register at www.etix.com.

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 NationaArchives & 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.
Black Homesteaders of the South with Bernice A. Bennett

Celebrating January First … African American style

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:

  • The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes a different principle.
  • 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.

Today, church ceremonies such as the NAACP and Roaoke, Virginia community hold a commemorative service in honor of Jubilee Day.


Grandmas’ hands creatively cooked cuisine in Nebraska kitchens

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.

Grandma Edna Robinson, third from left, and her best buddies in the church and Evans Tower kitchens.

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.

In addition, our respective paternal grandmothers cooked up their best foods for us to celebrate January first as Jubilee Day. Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day celebrations for Black Americans used to be singularly celebrated on the first day of each year. However, the years since our childhood have yielded the progressive movements for Juneteenth — June 19th — to become a national holiday and as such, also share in the honors of being known as Jubilee Day.

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.

Happy 2023!


Christmas is the reason for the season of escape for the enslaved

No matter how scarce the food, clothing and other resources, our enslaved Black ancestors found ways to celebrate Christmas.

Reverend John Wright was a Presbyterian minister active in Cumberland County, Virginia, during the 1760s. On the Feast of the Epiphany, 1761, he wrote to several benefactors in England describing the following Christmas scene: “My landlord tells me, when he waited on the Colonel [Cary] at his country-seat two or three days [ago], they heard the Slaves at worship in their lodge, singing Psalms and Hymns in the evening, and again in the morning, long before break of day. They are excellent singers, and long to get some of Dr. Wattss Psalms and Hymns, which I encourage them to hope for.”

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.

Abolitionist and social activist Tubman was born in slavery. She escaped and made 13 successful missions to rescue nearly 100 Black slaves.

This is a page from the autobiography of Henry Bibb, a former slave who successfully escaped on Christmas Day in 1837. MPI/Getty Images

He was born to a Black enslaved woman and a white U.S. state senator. He wrote “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself.”

Another Fugitive’s Account
Henry Bibb.
Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave.
New York: The Author, 1849.
Rare Book and Special Collections Division. (2-13)
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.”

Tune in … read on for Black Christmas holiday traditions

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.


Book the best ancestry gift-giving

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.


Encouragement for family ancestry slueths: Finding a Christmas present in the past

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.

This article opened brick wall

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.


How our ancestors’ Christmas traditions brightened our lives

“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.

First fruits

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.

Happy Holidays


Cyber Monday e-books on sale from Good Genes Genealogy

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.


Genealogy Book Black Friday Sale!

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.

We are providing you with preview of the book. Please follow the link to our publisher’s store, or pick up your copy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Enjoy reading a portion of our Chapter 3.

Family Ties That Bind

Are you one-fourth or one-eighth African? The U.S. Census wanted to know

Chapter 3

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.”


From NPR’s It’s Been a Minute

WUAL APR Weekend Edition Saturday

“No Stone Unturned: Preserving Slave Cemeteries in Alabama” An APR news documentary

Alabama Public Radio | By Pat Duggins

Published November 4, 2022 at 7:07 PM CDT

Prewitt cover shot 8 larger.JPG

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.

Strozier Ground penetrating radar GREAT reversed.jpg
The ground penetrating radar equipment from Omega Mapping Services, at the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery in Northport

“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.

Kemp 1.JPG
Patricia Kemp

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.

Ballard 1.jpeg
Olley Ballard

“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.

Deontay Wilder, during a parade in Tuscaloosa, celebrating his victory as WBC World Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 2015

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.

Dr. Joshua Rothman

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.”

Prewitt ghost story.JPG
The typewritten manuscript of a ghost story about the second wife of plantation owner John Welch Prewitt, from the Alabama State Archives

“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.

Deontay Caleb oConnor statue tighter.jpg
Deontay Wilder with artist Caleb O’Connor at the unveiling of Wilder’s bronze statue in Tuscaloosa.

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…

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The check-in table at the 20th annual workshop of the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance

“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…

Alexander 1.jpeg
Ethel Alexander, of the Birmingham African American Genealogy Group

“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.

Ethel Alexander 2.jpeg
Photos of Ethel Alexander’s family at her home near Birmingham.

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….

Election 2020 Selma
Rep. Terri Sewell speaks at the unity breakfast Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Selma , Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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.

Dr. Jesse Bayker

“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.”

Tombstones 2.jpg

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.

Len Strozier radar equally good.jpeg
Len Strozier, of Omega Mapping Services

“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.

Kemp 2.JPG
Patricia 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.

Partial slave receipt.JPG
Partial bill of sale for an enslaved woman and her children

“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.


News descendants of slaveslast U.S. slave shipdescendants of slavesslaveryAlabama NAACPNAACPChamber of Commerce of West AlabamaBoxingElection Daymid-term electionsmidterm electionsRutgers


All set: Precious finds from our grandmother’s China set collection

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.

  1. 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).


White Cane Day: Seeing ways to celebrate visually impaired ancestors

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.

Laboring Days for Black Americans: The story behind the September holiday

It’s’ Labor Day. The “celebration” is a U.S. holiday and has been dubbed the unofficial closing of summer. There are many layers to the meaning of Labor Day for Black folk. Here is an excerpt from the ebook, “Black Laboring Days,” Copyright © 2021 by Ann Wead Kimbrough, Mark Owen

Chapter Four
Labor Day and Black Codes, Black Law

From “Labor Day in Brooklyn …” brownstoner.com

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.

U.S. Labor Department photo

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. (
According to numerous historical documents, Congress
passed legislation to repeal all Black Codes, yet the Southern
States continued with its practices.
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
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
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

September Laboring Day

Ebook | By Ann Wead Kimbrough, Mark S. Owen

ISBN: 9781716435287

A bit of ancestry humor … and truth!

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