Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Marva Louis, "Daylight Whitley" & the Southern Pacific Railroad

Marva Trotter Louis (1940)
In 2002, while looking through a box of old photos with my mother & grandmother, I found this picture of Marva Louis, the lovely wife of the Former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joe Louis.  The faint signature on the photograph says “To ‘Daylight Whitley,” My Dear Friend.  From Marva Louis, 1940.”

When I asked my grandmother why Marva referred to my great-grandfather, William L. Whitley, Jr. as “Daylight” she stated that he was the Head Chef on Southern Pacific Railroad’s Passenger Train known as the “Shasta” and that he rode the “Daylight” train.  Thus, most of his friends on the railroad knew him as “Daylight Whitley.”

Tonight, I decided to Google the Shasta Train operated by Southern Pacific Railroad and the following website results appeared:

It appears that the train was originally known as “The Shasta Limited" in 1895 but was replaced by the “Shasta Daylight” by 1949. It traveled from Oakland, California to Portland, Oregon in 15 hours and 30 minutes.  Interesting.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cora Page Fleming: Discovering My 2nd Great Grandmother's Death Record

In 2002, while talking to my maternal grandmother, Leona, about our family history, she reiterated the pedigree of our maternal ancestors...something she’d done since I was 8 years old:
  • “Binky” a slave woman who owner’s name was “Shields”
  • “Nellie Shields Washington,” her daughter
  • “Fannie Shields Page,” her granddaughter
  • “Cora Page Fleming,” her great-granddaughter
  • “Nanearl Fleming Whitley,” (aka “Elinor” and “Mutsey”), her 2x great-granddaughter
  • “Leona Whitley Williams,” her 3x  great-granddaughter
  • “Coralee Williams Willis,” her 4x  great-granddaughter and my mother.
When I asked her who she remembered as a child, she spoke of her grandmother, Cora.  Cora told Leona her mother, Fannie, died when she was 15 years old so she became responsible for raising her brothers and sister.  Leona also told me that Cora lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, but in her later years, suffered from cancer.  When her condition was terminal, her oldest child, Nanearl, brought Cora to her home in Berkeley, California where she would live out her remaining days.  Leona said she hadn’t been in Berkeley a year when she died.  

I asked Leona, “How old were you when Cora died?”  She answered, “22.”  With that information I was able to figure out what year Cora died.  Leona was born in 1924 so that would make the year 1946.  Knowing Cora’s maiden & married name (Page & Fleming), the state in which she was born (Louisiana), the county & state in which she died (Alameda County, California) and the death year (1946), I was able to order her death record from the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder’s Website (http://www.acgov.org/auditor/clerk/).   

The document below summarizes everything my grandmother told me.  

 Cora Page Fleming's Death Record
Cora Page Fleming's Death Record
Cora died, April 8th, 1946 in Berkeley, CA at the residence of my great-grandparents (omitted for privacy reasons).  It also states that she was a resident of California for only 7 months and that her parents were Fanny Shields and Jack Page, my 3rd great-grandparents--both natives of Louisiana. The informant of this information was George Fleming, her oldest son who lived in Oakland. The cause of death was carcinoma. It also states she is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA and the funeral director, Aramis Fouché, signed the death certificate. I recognized his name from Fouché-Hudson Funeral Home in Oakland which I am very familiar with.

Cora's Gravesite
It’s amazing what you discover when you have casual conversation with your elders.  The lesson I learned from this conversation was not only the value in asking question that generate dialog and discussion, but how you ask the questions.  I didn’t ask my grandmother when she died,  I asked her “How old were you when she died?”  Most people remember events from their lives by either their age or any significant events surrounding their lives.  You can ask things like “was your first child born when that happened” or “were you married during that time?”  You can really construct time frames and points of reference in addition to opening discussion over other events that may be just as significant as the one your researching!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Mother's Day I Will Never Forget

Some of the fondest memories I have involve discussing family history with my grandmothers. I learned so much from them.  In 2000, I had several conversations with my paternal grandmother, Ruby Mckinley Jenkins regarding her father whom I knew little about. Montgomery Mckinley was born in 1901 in Saint Francisville, Louisiana. She told me that he died around the age of 40 of a massive heart attack.  Ruby said she was 17 years old at the time.  Hearing this made me feel so bad for her--to lose her father at such a young age.  Ruby was a daddy’s girl.  Thus, the reason for the tough exterior she displayed her whole life became apparent in disclosing that fact.

I asked her if she had a picture of him. She asked me to go in her bedroom and look for a cardboard box on her closet room floor. To my astonishment, she had A TON of old photos!!!!! I gently asked her if I could scan her precious photos to preserve them.  Being her only grandchild--HER BABY...how could she deny me?  LOL!  I scanned all of them including the only picture of her father known to exist.  

The picture was damaged & deteriorating, but I’m pretty proficient with Photoshop so I attempted to restore it. Mother’s Day was coming up so I decided to present the restored copies as framed gifts--one in color and one in black & white.

These are the before-and-after pictures of Montgomery Mckinley:


My grandmother immediately dropped her head in hands full of tears.  I’d never seen her so emotional and I certainly didn’t expect it!  We sat there and just cried together. I tear-up just thinking about now. It was one of the best days and proudest moments of my life--to be able to do that for her.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One of my mentors, Professional Genealogist, Judy Riffel, appears on "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Judy Riffel
I'm so excited about tonight's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"  Judy Riffel, notable Professional Genealogist, Author, Researcher and Lecturer will be assisting Emmy-award winning actor, Jim Parsons, on researching his family tree at LSU's Special Collections in Hill Memorial Library.

For the “Taylor” branch of my tree, Judy assisted me and my cousin, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson.  Judy provided many clues that helped us get past the infamous “1870 brick wall” that so many African Americans face.  Personally, whether she knows it or not, Judy is an incredible mentor to me and I admire her and her work very much!

In 2005, she found mortgage & probate records and a bill of sale for my 4th great grandparents, Nelson Taylor & Lytha (Lethia) Briant Taylor and their 5 children dating back to 1831 in West Feliciana Parish.

In July of 2012, Judy busted through another brick wall by the finding property records for Gilbert Diagre, a Louisiana Planter in East Baton Rouge Parish that owned my 3th great-grandmother, Artimease Harris and my 2th great-grandfather, her son, Emanuel Willis, Sr., on what was known as Mulberry Grove Plantation.  She also discovered they were purchased from neighboring Chatsworth Plantation owned by Fergus Duplantier.  Thanks to Judy, I now have to return to the LSU's Special Collections where records on Chatsworth are currently being translated!

The last time I went to the Louisiana State Archives (July of 2013), I ran into her by chance and she devoted the last two hours of her time to navigating me in the right direction for my areas of interest.  She helped me find my 4th great-grandmother, Julia Lee, and her children in the 1859 Succession Record of Sarah Rucker Haile in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.

Judy is truly amazing and I’m sure I can speak for Patricia and my other family members when I say that she is truly a Godsend!

For more details on tonight’s episode refer to the following link: 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Corporal Thomas Benton, U.S. Colored Infantry, 67th Regiment, Company E - My 3rd Great-Grandfather (UPDATE)

Regarding my last post, I contacted my cousin, James Hill III and told him about the memorial in Washington, DC.  James was already scheduled to go their in a few weeks so he asked me for all the details.  On August 27, 2013, James text me these photos of Thomas Benton's memorial. 

Plaque C-76 for the 67th Regiment,
United States Colored Infantry
Thomas Benton (Center, fourth row)

James (L) and Dr. Frank Smith, Executive Director of African American Civil War Museum
In addition, I also discovered the following document on FOLD3 as a part of Thomas' official Military Civil War Record with the 67th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry:

Colored Volunteer Descriptive List for Thomas Benton
 This document shows that Thomas told the Military's Examining Surgeon that his former slave owner was "Henry McCabe."  The document also states that McCabe was a Loyalist of the Union.  Further research shows that McCabe served as Captain of the 8th Regiment, Missouri State Militia Calvary, Company E, in Springfield, Missouri.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corporal Thomas Benton, U.S. Colored Infantry, 67th Regiment, Company E - My 3rd Great-Grandfather

After finding out my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Benton was a Union Soldier in the U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War, I decided to look up more information on his regiment.  Incidently, I found this web site and discovered this monument has a plaque for every Colored Regiment containing the names of every Colored Soldier.  My ancestor's name is on Plaque C-76.  I'm speechless.

Below is the information I discovered about his regiment:

67th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry
OVERVIEW:  Organized March 11, 1864, from 3rd Missouri Colored Infantry. Attached to Dept. of Missouri to March, 1864. District of Port Hudson, La., Dept. of the Gulf, to June, 1864. Provisional Brigade, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to September, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to February, 1865. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to May, 1865. Northern District of Louisiana, Dept. of the Gulf, to July, 1865.
SERVICE:  Moved from Benton Barracks, Mo., to Port Hudson, La. arriving March 19, 1864, and duty there till June. Moved to Morganza, La., and duty there till June, 1865. Action at Mt. Pleasant Landing, La., May 15, 1864 (Detachment). Expedition from Morganza to Bayou Sara September 6-7, 1864. Moved to Port Hudson June 1, 1865. Consolidated with 65th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, July 12, 1865.
Predecessor unit:
Organized at Benton Barracks, Mo. Designation changed to 67th United States Colored Troops March 11, 1864 (which see).

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Great-Great grandmother, Alice Mckinley REVEALED!

On June 5, 2013, I received a text from my 2nd cousin--once removed, Vickie Young-Walker.  I discovered Vickie and her family from research on the Sterling side of my family.  Vickie wanted me to ask my father if he knew the VEAL Sisters who attended Mckinley High School in Baton Rouge, La., my father's Alma Mater.  Vickie stated her dad's sister, Pearl Young, married their father, Charlie Veal, Jr.   I relayed the message to him and he confirmed the association.  He told me he knew 2 of the 5 sisters, Gwen & Charlene, as well as their father, Charlie.  His mother told him he was related to them on her father's side, but he wasn't sure how.  The next thing I know, I'm passing text messages back and forward between the two of them for the next hour.  

All I knew about my grandmother's dad, Montgomery Mckinley and his side of the family was his father's name (Stewart Mckinley), his mother's first name (Alice), and 6 of his siblings: Gerly, Louisiana, Leslie, Rosalie, Jessie Lee & Susie.  My father helped me with some of their descendants, but that was it.  I accessed Ancestry.com and found a tree posted with Pearl Young, Charlie Veal and his mother Annie Moncree, but I also saw my Sterling cousins and my great-great grandmother, Lizzie Taylor (Vickie's grandmother)...?!  

Now I'm really intrigued.

Vickie gave my contact information to Gwen and she called June 7th.  Gwen referred me to her 1st cousin, Byron Richardson and we spoke twice that day.  The second time, we spoke with his 90 year old mother, Thelma Eby Richardson on the phone.  We talked for nearly two hours and she solved the puzzle.  Cousin Thelma said her mother, Annie Moncree and Alice Mckinley were sisters and their mother's name was Anne Jenkins.  They also had a brother named Ben Moncree, Jr & a sister named Easter (married name: Matthews).  Thelma knew my father, grandmother, great-grandfather, Montgomery and all of his siblings.  Even more astonishing, she knew the Sterlings and the Taylors on my great-grandmother's side of the family (Montgomery's wife Essie B. Taylor Mckinley)!!!  She also said Montgomery had another sibling named Mae Alice Mckinley who married Ben Parker and had a daughter named Louise B. Parker.  When told of this, my father confirmed it and said there was another daughter named "Viola."

Yesterday, I found my original notes from an interview with Essie B. and my grandmother 22 years ago. I didn't realize that above Alice's name, I wrote two more names with no reference to relationship:  "Anna" and "Esther."  Apparently, I had their names already, but after 22 years, I couldn't remember why I notated those names.  Thanks to Thelma, I now know.  I also documented Montgomery's father's siblings above his name as well: Edna, Richard, Gerly, Mary, & Johnny.  I didn't realize I had these names!!!!

I'm very excited now because all I knew was a first name--"Alice" and nothing else.  Thanks to my cousin Vickie for asking about Mckinley High School graduates, Byron and his mother Thelma, I've busted through another brick wall!