An excerpt from our November 2021 e-book
Welcome to the fourth in a series of our e-books that highlight the unique genealogy of African Americans. Do you know how many of your ancestors were in the military? We didn’t realize until the documents were released a few years ago that revealed our African American male ancestors who served in various military assignments. Come walk with us and learn how you can find your hidden ancestors who served bravely battled in conflicts, served, and supported white male regiments to earn victories for the United States.
Turning to other conflicts, did you know that despite the numerous reports to the contrary, former African American slaves cared so deeply about their families remaining together that our ancestors searched for decades to find those separated from them? The horrific sales of individual slaves on blocks where husbands and wives, sisters and brothers and other relatives saw each other for the last time. That is until former slaves began to place editorials and advertisements in newspapers across the nation. Thankfully, there are published accounts of slave family reunion stories found in the more than 3,500 Black newspapers. To our delight, and we are sure it will be the same for you, there are tremendous love stories that emerge from the rubble of lost couples in our research.
On the topic of love stories, learn about an elite man who courted and married a former slave. They were of different races, and their 13-year marriage yielded five children worth remembering more about. Educational, political, social, and governmental structures protected and exposed the interracial couple’s life long after the husband’s death. It involves the measurement of one’s race based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s designations of one-quarter and one-eighth Black persons.
Our truth is marching on: Finding and saluting our military ancestors
Each November, we celebrate our military veterans who fought world wars in the name of freedom from fascism, slavery, and more. When my (Ann’s) daughter, Jocelyn C. Kimbrough, announced to our family that she was trading her collegiate days for enlistment in the U.S. Army, we were surprised. She served with honors.
Yet, it was in her blood as of a few years later, we discovered in our ancestry research that many of our relatives served in U.S. military units. We are still clarifying records on potential relatives who may have served in conflicts ranging from the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Ancestry.com boasts of 760 thousand records about African Americans’ involvement in wars since the Revolutionary War. See African American – Fold3.
This chapter will highlight our great maternal uncles – the Wilks, Wilkes brothers — and their varied military service assignments to guide our reader to sources that may provide similar results.
Aloha to Earnest Gaylord Wilks’ (March 20, 1909 – Jan. 15, 1980)
The U.S. Selective Service began ordering the registration of young men in 1917. It remains a primary source of documents, aka draft cards for ancestors since the “threat of unforeseen forces,” and remains part of the directive by Presidential and Congressional orders for men between the ages of 18 and 25. Who Needs to Register | Selective Service System: Selective Service System (sss.gov). However, it is clear that the ages of men signing up for the draft were well over age 25, as shown on the draft card of my Great Uncle Earnest Wilks. His younger brother, Alvin Wilks, was 27 years old when he enlisted in military service in 1941.
He led an exciting life and retired from the military in Hawaii, where he was a community leader, and musician. Let’s begin with draft cards to learn more about your ancestors’ whereabouts.