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 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 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!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Olympic Gold Medalist and NBA Hall of Famer, Don Barksdale - A Friend of My Grandparents

Don Barksdale is circled in yellow.  Also shown are my grandmother, Leona (Whitley) Williams (far right) and her sister Coralee Whitley (second from the right)
I just left my 92 year old maternal grandfather's house 2 hours ago and he pointed out something to me I never knew.  I showed him this photograph and he told me the gentleman circled in the picture was a friend of his named Don Barksdale.  He said Barksdale played professional basketball.

Well, I looked him up and it turns out Don Barksdale played professional basketball from 1948-1955.  He signed with the newly formed National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1951 to play with the Baltimore Bullets (1951-53) and later the Boston Celtics (1953-55).  Barksdale was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

He also was the first African American to be named consensus NCAA All-American in 1947 and the first African American to be on the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team and won a Gold Medal in 1948.

Don Barksdale died in Oakland, California at the age of 69 on March 8, 1993.

If you don't ask, you'll never know.

Monday, April 15, 2013

TODAY'S DISCOVERY: An Oakland Tribune Article about My Great-Grandfather, William L. Whitley, Jr.

Oakland Tribune Article
This afternoon I was stunned by my discovery of this archived Oakland Tribune newspaper article about my great grandfather, William Leon Whitley, Jr dated February 9, 1969.  Below is my transcription of the article and a few added pictures already in my possession.

Oakland Tribune - Sun., Feb. 9, 1969
By Harre W. Demoro
Tribune Staff Writer

People are in too much of a hurry today to savor the art work of William L. Whitley.  

William Leon Whitley, Jr.
Ends culinary career
"They come in and order a four-minute egg and they want it in two minutes," says Whitley, 65, who is retiring as instructing chef of the Southern Pacific's shrinking Dining Car Department, at West Oakland.  

"What worries me is the younger men.  As for me, I'm through.  I feel for the younger men with families."

Whitley was in the "club car" of the Cascade that had just arrived on an overnight run from Portland.  Appropriate surroundings to hear Whitley tell his story.  "I wouldn't bring my son down here," he said, looking out the window. 

Whitley said he started on the dining cars in 1919 on a part-time basis while he was finishing school.  He signed on full time in 1922.   

"This was the largest commissary in the world," he said, referring to the huge complex SP once had in West Oakland and Portland.  "My father was a chef here.  He started to work for the company in 1902." 

There was a rule against members of the same family working aboard the same trains, but for some long-forgotten reason it was not applied to the Whitley father-son team. 

Whitley's father,
William Morris Whitley, Sr.
"I started as a dishwasher on train Number 654 between Oakland and Portland.  My father taught me. I worked with him right in the kitchen and I thought he was too tough for me.  In later years I can see what he was trying to teach me.  He was tough," the younger Whitley recalled with a grin. 

"Within three months I was elevated to third cook.  Within a year's time I made second cook.  In 1925 I was made a chef.  I ran on trains up until 1945, when they made me instructing chef.  

We used to make lobster patties and chicken a la poulette...we experimented.  Some of the recipes came from old-time chefs, and some we made ourselves...we had  to prepare everything from the bottom.  We had to make all the pie dough and soup stock...we made pies right on the train."  

Today, they are baked at the commissary. A typical dining crew in the old days consisted of four cooks and six or seven waiters.  Today, there are only two Eastbay SP trains with diners.  The Cascade has two cooks and three waiters;  the City of San Francisco, two cooks and two waiters.  

William Whitley on the
Sunset Limited in 1942
Artificial flowers are used instead of real ones. When he worked on the old Sunset Limited out of San Francisco, four cooks prepared meals for 150 persons in two hours. 

And each meal was prepared individually. "Steaks broiled to order," he said.  This is one menu item that has not totally disappeared. 

Although SP's cooks had to be experts, Whitley also required them to follow recipes exactly as printed in cook books, and he said that is a rule housewives should follow. 

Many of the gastronomic delights Whitley perfected are now in the official SP cook books. 

William L. Whitley, Jr.
Whitley says his wife, Nanearl is an expert chef, but wasn't much of a cook when they married 46 years ago. "She's learned on her own."   

Among the dignitaries who enjoyed Chef Whitley's cuisine were Earl Warren, now Chief Justice of the United States, and the late Joseph R. Knowland, publisher of the Tribune. Both men were on the diner one day and Warren's two daughters came back into the kitchen to observe Whitley's skills.  "I baked a cherry pie for his daughters," Whitley said.  

"Retirement doesn't bother me. I keep busy." 

Whitley, who lives in Berkeley, is active in Menelik Shrine Temple No. 36 and plans "to get on a few committees."  

He has three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  "I've got a gang of kids." 

William (center), along with his wife,
Nanearl, being congratulated by
 Assemblyman William Byron Rumford
Whitley has been "on vacation" since Feb. 1. His retirement starts officially Feb. 28. On Saturday there will be a big retirement dinner for him in Berkeley. The guest speaker will be former State Assemblyman W. Byron Rumford.  The two have been friends for years--ever since a youthful Rumford knocked on the Whitley door to deliver some packages. 

"I'm not going to grow old," Whitley said.

For more on my great grandfather's recipes, click on the image below.

Chef Whitley's Favorite Recipes