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 the 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."  Although misspelled (Anne & Easter), 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!

Update: I found the death records for both Alice and her sister, Easter because Thelma remembered when Alice died and she told me Easter died in New Orleans.  The records both show their maiden name was MOORE.  Their father was Gordon Moore of West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. 

Death Record of Alice More Mckinley
Death Record of Easter Moore Matthews

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Great-Great Grandmother, Lizzie Taylor - UPDATE

Lizzie Williams Taylor
(Courtesy of Sonja Cyrus)
On November 30, 2012, I posted what I described as the "second of two known photos" of my Great-Great Grandmother, Lizzie Taylor.  This past Saturday, my cousin, Sonja Cyrus, text me ANOTHER picture.  Floored again.  THANK YOU SONJA!!!!!!!!!

Friday, March 29, 2013


1988 Benton Family
 Reunion Program
In 1988, I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with my father’s side of the family to attend our 1st family reunion.  This reunion focused on my grandfather’s maternal side of the family.  My grandfather’s name was Sanders Willis, Sr. and his mother, Artimease (Benton) Willis Jackson, was still living at the time at the age of 86.  My first visit was in 1984 to attend my cousin, the late Jerome Vernell, Sr.’s wedding, but this was to be my first exposure to my family on a much larger scale. 

The family tree program (shown to the left) stated the root began with Ed & Artimease Benton (Artimease Jackson’s paternal grandparents).  It also stated 7 children were born to this union:
  • Ed Benton , Jr. (b. 1872) – My 2x great grandfather
  • Charles Benton (b. 1873)
  • Thomas Benton (b. 1874)
  • Nellie Benton (b. 1876)
  • Earnest Benton (b. 1880)
  • Katie Benton (b. 1891)
  • Maude Benton (b. 1893)
This reunion focused on the descendents of these children.  My great-grandmother, Artimease (Benton) Willis Jackson (named after her grandmother), was born the first of six children to Ed, Jr. & Mamie Benton in 1902 in Gramercy, Louisiana.  Her siblings included:
  • Mamie Benton (b. 1905)
  • Percy Benton (b. 1908)
  • Dalton Benton (b. 1911)
  • Velma Benton (b. 1913)
  • Earnest Benton (b. 1915)
Twenty one years later, I decided to verify these facts on Ancestry.com.  One day, I came across something a little puzzling.  In the 1880 U.S. States Federal Census for East Baton Rouge Parish, page 28 (image 28 of 83), Artimease Benton is listed as “Tomese;” Mulatto, female, age 25 with the first 5 of her 7 children: Edward, Charles, Thomas, Nellie & Ernest.

1880 U.S. Federal Census for 
Artimease Benton & Children
This makes sense given the last two children are not born for at least another decade.  It also states their father, who is not listed, was born in Missouri. However, the 1900 U.S. States Federal Census for East Baton Rouge Parish, S.D. #6, E.D. #28, sheet 10 (images 20 & 21) illustrates a discrepancy from the reunion program.  Artimease is listed as Head of Household and a 45 year old widow of seven children.  She also stated she was born in October of 1854.  The following individuals and their relationship to her are as follows:

  • Thomas Benton; son; born in July of 1874; age 25; single
  • Nellie Jackson; daughter; born in Aug of 1876; age 23; married for 2 years
  • Alfred Jackson; son-in-law; born in July of 1873; age 26; married for 2 years
  • Katie Jackson; daughter; born in Aug of 1891; age 8; single
  • Maude Jackson; daughter; born in Feb of 1893; age 7; single
  • *Eddie Benton; son; born in Dec of 1872; age 27; married
  • Ernest Benton; son; born in March of 1881; age 19; single

1900 U.S. Federal Census for Artimease Benton & Children

My initial thought was Katie & Maude were the children of Alfred & Nellie Jackson, but that means Nellie bore her first child at 15.  The census record say she was married at the age of 21.  Also, the relationship column pertains to Head of Household, implying these young girls are the daughters of Artimease, but the family Reunion program says their last name was “Benton.” 

Now I’m confused!

In July of 2009, I asked my Aunt Marguerite, daughter of Artimease Jackson, why Katie & Maude’s last names were “Jackson” instead of Benton if they were Ed & Artimease Benton’s children.  She was not sure, but she did remember that Maude Jackson (who married Joseph Davis, Sr.) was the last living child of Artimease Benton and the oldest living family member (95 years old) during the time of the reunion in 1988.  She recalled that when her sister, Ruth Castle, invited the entire Davis Family to the reunion, Maude’s daughter, also named Maude Davis, replied “…but it’s the ‘BENTON’ family reunion.  We are not Bentons.”   Aunt Marguerite, interpreted this as some missunderstanding--that since their surname is now "Davis" instead of "Benton," they didn't feel it included them.  As a result, Aunt Marguerite did not pursue it any further, but my suspicions were confirmed.  The family tree was incorrect—Katie and Maude had a different father, but anyone that new the real story was deceased and the living family members were not aware.  They just assumed they were Bentons.

On Oct 14, 2010, James Hill III contacted me on Ancestry.com.  James is the great, great grandson of Artimease Benton and great grandson of Maude (Jackson) Davis.  James came across my post of Artimease’s death certificate.  He instantly recognized the residential address!  He also was unsure of the relationship between the Jacksons & the Bentons.  Yet, on Dec 9th, he posted Maude’s death certificate which stated her birth father’s name…Andrew Jackson!  Their sister, Nellie, married Alfred Jackson.  Is he any relation to Andrew?  That has yet, to be explored.

James also pointed out something else I never knew:  On the aforementioned 1880 census (that I examined for YEARS), residing next door to Artimease ("Tomese") and her children was a 36 year old, “mulatto” female named “Wartha Wederstrandt” and a 55 year old white male “boarder” named William Maddox.  From various interviews with his grandmother, Doris (Davis) Fields, James was able to confirm that “Hiawartha” Wederstrandt was Artimease’s sister!  James and I were unsure if “Wederstandt” was Artimease’s maiden name as well because she did not state her father’s birth location on the census, but Hiawartha did—she stated he was born in Maryland.

Then, something happened in early March of 2013.  While speaking to my Aunt Maguerite on the phone, I find out that her grandfather, Ed Benton, Jr., died in the mid to late 1940’s in his son’s (Earnest) house.  She said she was a teenager at the time.  I never heard that before because no one ever spoke of him.  That immediately prompted me to search Ancestry.com for his death record in E. Baton Rouge Parish.  I just received the document last Thursday.  Ed’s son, Dalton, the informant, indicated Ed’s father’s name was “THOMAS Benton.”  Ed was not a junior and the family tree program was wrong again!
To verify this, I searched Ancestry.com again and found a marriage record for a “Thomas Benton” & “Artimis Weatherstrand” married March 28, 1870.  Now, I know the true names of my 3rd great grandparents!!!! The document will be here next week and I will update this post as soon as I get it.**

Artimease Wederstrandt Benton

On December 14, 2010, James completely stunned me with an email of this INCREDIBLE picture of my 3rd great grandmother, Artimease (Wederstrandt) Benton.  He said this picture sat on the mantle of his grandmother’s house as long as he can remember.  I sent this to Aunt Marguerite and all of my family in Baton Rouge.  No one ever saw this picture before…truly amazing!
From (L-R): Doris Davis Fields, Artimease Wederstrandt  Benton & Artimease Benton Willis Jackson
Some time after that, James emailed a current picture of his grandmother, Doris, his mother and her sisters.  Using PhotoShop, I combined her picture with other pictures of Artimease (Wederstrandt) Benton & my great-grandmother, Artimease (Benton) Willis Jackson (shown above).
I called my Aunt Marguerite this afternoon and told her "I know why Maude said they were not Bentons." When I explained, she just laughed and said "Well, that's good information to know."  

She continued: "But they ARE Bentons because Artimease IS A BENTON."

I said: "Only by her marriage to Thomas Benton. Her maiden name is "WEDERSTRANDT."  Maude & Katie's father was a JACKSON--Andrew Jackson."


I said, "I am, Aunt Marguerite...I am."

* - "Eddie" Benton is my 2nd great grandfather
** - On March 29, 2013, I acquired the marriage record (below).  Unfortunately, it did not indicate the parents of Thomas Benton & Artimease Wederstrandt. 

Marriage Certificate for
Thomas Benton & Artimease Wedserstrandt
Marriage License & Bond for 
Thomas & Artimease Benton

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Finding the Sterlings (Con't)

After reuniting with my family, we continued to explore our relationship by comparing stories and research.  The connection with the Sterlings never appeared to be more than that of in-laws (i.e., Jeff’s father, Virgil and his relationship with my great-great grandmother, Lizzie Williams), but this fascinating document seemed to paint a slightly different picture.

1880 U.S. Federal Census
I must preface my commentary about this 1880 Census Record with the fact that I studied this document for 5 years and never noticed what I’m about to tell you.  Remember, when I first interviewed my great-grandmother, Essie, she spoke of her father George Taylor and his parents, Nelson, Jr. & Martha Taylor.  Since finding the Sterlings was such a long shot, I focused on the Taylors.  I found this record showing Nelson, Jr.’s parents, Nelson, Sr. & “Lytha (aka “Lifie,” Lilly" & “Lettie”) on lines 19 & 20.  Notice Cecille Bryant and four of her children (Carey, Voltaire, Linda & Chris on lines 3-7.

 Shortly after this, I found the marriage records for both father and son and discovered Lytha’s maiden name was “Bryant” & Martha’s was “Morgan.”  At the time, I suspected there was a connection between Lytha & Cecille Bryant, but I wasn’t sure so I focused on what I knew--the Taylors. As my cousin, Shawn, can attest to, the Morgans completely overwhelmed me so I left that up to her.

After finding the Sterlings in August of 2011, this 1880 U.S. Federal Census record took on a whole new meaning.

This record (West Feliciana Parish, 4th Ward, District 199, Page 58, image 22 of 24) lists many relatives across several families (Morgans, Bryants, Sterlings, Taylors, etc).
On lines 4-6, Carey, Voltaire & Linda are listed as “Bryants” by mistake—they are actually “Stirlings” listed under their mother, Cecille's, maiden name due to the fact that they were fathered by Lewis Stirling, Jr., son of the Wakefield Plantation's owner and his wife, Lewis Stirling and Sarah Turnbull, as illustrated on Virgil Stirling’s death record (below).
Virgil Sterling's Death Record
In addition, all subsequent census records list them as “Stirlings,” yet, their mother maintains her maiden name until the time of her death on Dec 15, 1920.  In a recent conversation with my cousin, Kirk, great grandson of Virgil, he disclosed that his research suggests that Lewis Stirling was “never married.”  Could this be because the nature of her relationship with Lewis was more than slave & owner?  One can only speculate…
Third, lines 13-18 show Sarah Ann Lee, sister of Nelson Taylor, Jr and daughter of Nelson Taylor, Sr. & Lytha, along with her children--Rosa, Washington, Louisa, Kitty & Letty.
Lastly, next door to Sarah, are her parents, Nelson, Sr., & Lytha Taylor.
Of course, the first clue that caught my attention was Cecille & Lytha having the same maiden last name.  Are they related? Cecille Bryant’s death records states that her father was “Virgil Bryant.”  No death record is available for Lytha.  My suspicion is that she died prior to 1900 when statewide death records were not recorded.  Only New Orleans kept records prior to 1900.

What is known through the collective research of Shawn, Kirk and my cousin, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson (2nd great-granddaughter of Nelson & Martha), is that Lewis Sterling kept a register of births for all slaves  on Wakefield Plantation and all these names and more were mentioned.  My cousin, Patricia, wrote a wonderful blog detailing our tree from information contained in "The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom - 1750-1925," a book by Herbert G. Gutman originally published in 1976.  Gutman used the register as a source for some of his information. Kirk discovered the same register at the LSU Library among the Stirling Family Papers in the Summer of 2012. The registry uncovers that Cecille Bryant (b. 17 Jan 1833) & Martha Morgan (b. 8 Jul 1851) were half-sisters, born to Linda Weathers Morgan (b. 1815).  

Martha is my 3rd great grandmother, thus, Virgil Stirling and his brothers & sisters would be Martha’s nieces & nephews.  My great grandmother Essie Taylor and her half-brother Jeff were also 2nd cousins!!!

Descendant Chart of Linda Weathers Morgan

It was hard to wrap my mind around this for awhile, but the evidence was confirmed through DNA research.  Utilizing DNA technology through 23andme.com, a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology that provides rapid genetic testing, our family discovered the genetic matches between Voltaire Stirling’s grandson, Voltaire Sterling, and my cousins Michael Taylor, Shawn Taylor, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson & Kirk Young.  Kirk & Voltaire are the only ones directly descending from Cecille. Their genetic connection was expected, but to Taylors as well???  The common ancestor is Linda Weathers Morgan, however, we are still exploring the possibility of another common ancestor among the Cecille Bryant & Lytha Bryant.

Genomic comparisons between
Voltaire & the Taylors 
Genomic comparisons between
Kirk, Voltaire & the Taylors 

Now, did you get all of that????

On December 3, 2011, my cousin Karen Galloway, 3rd great-grandaughter to Nelson Taylor, Jr.’s sister, France (Taylor) Irvine, made an incredible discovery in the National Archives database of the Freedmen’s Bureau records.  She found a labor contract dated January 1, 1867, with freedmen (sharecroppers) on a plantation known as “Mulberry Hill.”  This was less than two years after the Civil War ended.  The contract listed several family members:

1.     Nelson Taylor, Jr.
2.     Cecille Briant (“Bryant” - Martha’s sister)
3.     Jim Morgan (Martha’s brother)
4.     Luke Morgan (Martha’s brother)
5.     Frances Irving (“Irvine” – Nelson’s sister)
6.     Martha Morgan
7.     Rosalie Morgan (Martha’s sister)

The contract was approved and signed at the bottom of the page by Lewis Stirling.

One last tidbit of information:  In Part I of this blog I wrote about meeting Vernadette Taylor, great-granddaughter of Virgil Sterling   She introduced me to Iantha Hutchinson, great-granddaughter of Virgil's brother, Voltaire.  His son, Voltaire, Jr., migrated from Louisiana to Oakland, California.  He lived in a house next door to Sacred Heart Elementary School's kindergarten playground and he passed away in 1978.  I attended Sacred Heart from K-8.  I was in kindergarten from 1977-1978.  Small World.

Update: On July 4, 2013, my dad, Shawn Taylor and I were physically reunited with the Sterlings for the first time in 53 years.  It was one of the most emotional days of my life!

Michael Willis (Left), Sanders Willis (Top),
Voltaire Sterling (Center) & Kirk Young (Left).
From L-R: Vanessa Young London, 
Vickie Young-Walker, Sanders Willis, 
Maxine Sterling Young and Michael Willis

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Finding the Sterlings - A 51 Year Old Mystery Solved

This story is a complex and emotional one involving many people and many events occurring over the course of twenty years.  It's a story I have yet to share without crying. It is my wish to journal it as accurately as possible and I pray I do justice to my family members, all of whom played significant roles in this story.

This story actually begins in 1991 when I was 19.  I interviewed my paternal great-grandmother, Essie Beatrice (Taylor) Mckinley, who was 84 at the time and asked her about her linage.  She relayed the following: 
  • Parents: George Taylor & Lizzie Williams
  • Children (in order of birth): 
    • Laura (aka “Auntie Cuzane" {COO-ZANE}), 
    • Nelson (aka “Uncle Butta”), 
    • Essie ("Auntie Essie B.")
    • Earnestine    
She also told me Lizzie had 3 more children prior to her marriage to George:

  • Susie Pickett
  • Johnny Pickett
  • Jeff Sterling*
She mentioned that Susie married George’s brother, Harris Taylor and they had 15 children.  These children were her nieces and nephews AND her first cousins.

My reply: “WHAT?????”  

She continued by naming George and Harris’ other siblings (at least the one’s she could remember): Eliza, Sarah, Phillip, Rosalie, Francis, Dink, Joe, Ida, Robert, & Carrie (Harris’ twin).  All of these children were born to Nelson Taylor, Jr. & his wife, Martha, residents of Wakefield Plantation in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana

By this time, my head was spinning, but before I threw in the towel on this load she dumped on me, I stopped to ask a few questions about this brother I never heard of.  When I asked about Jeff Sterling, she just said that he was much older than her.  I ask who his father was and she said she didn't remember.  Her answers were very short when it came to her brother Jeff and at that time I couldn't understand why.  

Jeff Sterling's Louisiana State Death Record
Jeff Sterling's Louisiana State Death Record
In 2005, I found out why.

I discovered Jeff’s death record on Ancestry.com and ordered it from the Louisiana State Archives.  I took it to my grandmother’s house to discuss its contents (Essie passed away in 1992).  The document showed that Jeff died in an “accidental” fire, on January 30, 1948. He is listed as the son of “Vergin Stirling” and Lizzie Taylor and divorced from Ouslea Cage.  The informant for this information was his younger sister, Laura (Taylor) Hammond.  My grandmother, Ruby (Mckinley) Jenkins, confirmed these facts except for one: the accident.  She said to me “Baby, that wasn’t no accident.”  When I inquired for more detail, she said that a friend of the family witnessed his murder by white men and for that reason alone, she could not report it to authorities. She went on to tell me that after Ouslea divorced Jeff, she moved to Mississippi (the place of her birth) and took the children, but she did not know where or how many children were born to Jeff & Ouslea.

I asked my father if he had any recollection of the Sterlings and he said all he remembered was Jeff’s son, Jeff, Jr., who was blind and taught him how to use a typewriter.  My father wanted desperately to know if Jeff, Jr. was still alive.  He also said after Jeff, Sr. died, the family was very worried about the children, but did not know of their whereabouts.

For the next several years, I continued to investigate the whereabouts of Jeff Sterling’s descendants.  I asked several relatives, but no one had any information.  On August 30, 2010, I received an email on Ancestry.com from Vernadette Taylor, Great-granddaughter of “Virgil Sterling” and Kitty Reynolds of Wakefield, La.  Vernadette shared information about Virgil, his brother Voltaire Stirling and their mother, Cecille Bryant.  She told me "Virgil" had 21 children—one of them being Jeff and the other, his youngest child, Jeanette Sterling-Emery, who was still living at 100 years of age in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I wanted to know if she knew her half-brother Jeff so I asked Vernadette to contact her and confirm the relationship.  Vernadette did just that and Jeannette remembered her older brother!  Unfortunately, she too, did not know the whereabouts of her nieces and nephews.  She knew her sister-in-law took the kids and moved away, but that was all.

Again, I hit a brick wall. 

However, a year later, something very special happened.  My cousin, who I met on Ancestry.com in February of 2011, Shawn Taylor, great-granddaughter of Harris Taylor & Susie Picket and great-great granddaughter of Nelson Taylor, Jr. & Martha Morgan, called me one day and said “Michael, there is another tree on Ancestry.com that I think you ought to take a look at.  Jeff Sterling’s name, his wife and kids are present on the tree.”
Ouslea Cage (Sterling) Brackens 
(Picture Courtesy of Vickie Young-Walker)

I immediately logged in and was astonished to see Jeff, his wife Ouslea (and her picture), and a list of children: Margie, Jeff, Jr., Mary, Maxine & Oscar.  I contacted the owner of this tree, a woman by the name of Cassie Wilson, who is a descendant of Ouslea’s sister.  She explained that she met, Jeff & Ouslea's granddaughter, Vickie Young-Walker, daughter of Maxine Sterling and George Young, on another social network.  Vickie confirmed their relationship through a mutual relative, Jeannette Wilson Evans, niece of Ouslea Cage.

I said to Cassie: “I won’t ask you for Vickie’s number, since she did not give you permission to share it, so I will give you mine.  Will you please tell her that I am her cousin and I have been looking for her and the rest of the Sterling Family for the past 20 years?”  Cassie agreed and after speaking with Vickie, she gave me her email address.  Cassie’s kindness and willingness to honor my request, blessed more people and changed more lives than she will ever realize! 

On August 27, 2011, after 20 years of searching and 51 years of separation, the Sterling & Taylor families were reunited!  Vickie and I exchanged emails in which her response included the following excerpts:

…Jeff was my mother's dad and died before I was born…I do not recall visiting (Mama Lizzie), although mom said I did. But I do recall going to the Scotlandville funeral home to view her body… She was my great-grandmother.

My mother was basically cut away from her dad once my grandmother left him. To this day, my mom yearns for the thoughts of what life would have been like with him. Here are a few items that I documented in a self-published 1998 booklet.

Jeff's mother was Elizabeth Brown (unsure of last name) and her mother was named Mary (assumed Brown). Elizabeth was known as Mamma Lizzie by her grandchildren and was crippled in the knees. She lived in Wakefield until she moved to Baton Rouge with Jeff's sister Laura (her daughter).

After Jeff's father "Virgie" Sterling left his mother (Elizabeth) she married George Taylor. Jeff has some 22 brothers and sisters between Elizabeth, Virgie, his stepmother(s), and George Taylor. Some siblings included:
  • Laura who moved to Baton Rouge and was married to Hammond
  • Jeanette who married James Emery
  • Essiebee who moved to Baton Rouge
  • Emily who moved to New Orleans
  • Susie who had lots of children
  • Lebin Sterling
  • "Buddy" Taylor who moved to Baton rouge
  • Roosevelt who moved to New Orleans
  • Wilson who moved to New Orleans
  • Hunter, was killed in Louisiana over a horse settlement”
By this time, both my grandmother and great-grandmother had passed away.  This information corroborated details both of them & my father provided about Mama Lizzie being confined to a wheel chair for the latter part of her life.  My father never knew her to have the ability to walk.  It was also consistent with the story that Mama Lizzie was living with Aunt Laura at the time of her death in 1960.  My father also spoke of attending Mama Lizzie’s funeral so that meant my father and Vickie saw each other at least once 51 years ago, and did not know it!
Jeff Sterling
(Picture Courtesy of Vickie Young-Walker)
Vickie’s email also came attached with this picture of Jeff Sterling.

I cried my eye balls out.  

He was exactly as my grandmother described him.  I became very emotional at the time--in part, because I felt I was getting back a piece of my grandmother and great-grandmother.  Secondly, it felt as if it was their way of letting me know they are always with me and lastly, I felt that our family just completed a journey that took 51 years finish.

But it did not stop there…

Vickie asked me if I had a picture of “Mama Lizzie” so I sent her these pictures of Lizzie and Essie B. that I found in a cardboard box in my grandmother’s closet:

Essie Beatrice Taylor 
(Picture Courtesy of Sanders E. Willis)
This was Vickie’s response:


I have been in tears looking at these pictures. Must have talked to my mom for over an hour about our communications. She was telling me of the aunts/uncles she remembered. Said she attended funeral services for Aunt Laura and that Mama Lizzie lived with Uncle "Butta" for a while. My mom looks like her Aunt Essie. I forwarded the pictures to my siblings, mom, aunt, and Sterling cousins…I can see my grandfather's resemblance to his Mom.
I can't wait to print the picture and add it to my family tree wall display.

Thank you for making my day….

From that day forth, Vickie and I continued to email pictures of family members and then forward them to other family members.  Our family was in a complete uproar.  The excitement was unbelievable and the reunion sparked much dialog and emotion.  

On August 28th, I received the following email from Vickie’s brother, Kirk Young, with another amazing picture of Jeff Sterling attached to it:

Hello Michael,

Vickie is my sister and she shared the email and 4 photographs that you sent. I'm pretty sure my mom (Maxine) has never seen a photo of her grandmother, the odd thing is I can easily see my mom's face in Mama Lizzie's face. This is downright surreal. My mother's birthday is next week and what a treat for her to see this picture at this late stage of her life. Too bad a few of the Sterling siblings are no longer around to see as well…”

Jeff Sterling in his early 20's
(Picture Courtesy of Kirk Young)
On August 31, 2011, Maxine’s 79th birthday, Kirk and Vickie presented the picture of her grandmother and to my knowledge, she was overcome by emotion.

In addition, I contacted Vernadette and connected her with Vickie and Kirk.  I told them that Vernadette was “their cousin on Jeff’s father’s side of the family.  I’m related to you on his mother’s side.”  Vernadette told them that her Aunt Jeanette (Jeff’s baby sister), was having her 101nd birthday and that she would love for them to come.  Maxine met her Aunt Jeanette only one time in her life and now she was getting a second chance.  Maxine Sterling-Young, 79, reunited with her last living Aunt, Jeanette Sterling-Emery on October 22, 2011.

Two days later, Kirk emailed me about the event with photos attached:

Jeanette Sterling-Emery (L) & Maxine Sterling-Young
(Picture Courtesy of Vickie Young-Walker)

I just wanted to thank you again for calling us all those weeks ago because THAT call was the catalyst that ultimately lead to my mom being reunited with the Sterling family this past Saturday after a lifetime of separation. We attended the birthday celebration of her Aunt Jeanette Sterling-Emery, the last living sibling of her father Jeff. It was an emotional event for my mom and she said its the best gift we could have possibly given her. Can't remember the last time I've seen her so happy. Thank God they both lived long enough for Saturday to be possible. The resemblance was immediately visible. Take a look at the attached photo. We're looking forward to visiting Aunt Jeanette soon in the retirement home. I can't wait to talk to her in a calm quiet environment.

Virgil Stirling (Center) with his children:
Front: Wilson Stirling & Jeanette Sterling-Emery
Rear: Roosevelt Stirling (and wife Anna Mae)  
(Picture Courtesy of Kirk Young)
Sons of Virgil Stirling - (From L-R):
Wilson, Roosevelt (rear), Jeff (seated) & John
(Picture Courtesy of Kirk Young)
The young lady holding the floral arrangement in the family picture with Virgil Sterling is her. To everyone's amazement when I showed her the photo and asked who the young lady was, she smiled and said "it's me". There's another old photo of all men, not sure if you've seen it so I attached it. The young man sitting in the middle is Jeff Sterling. When I showed it to her, she immediately said "that's Jeff". Many of them had seen that picture for years and never knew that he was their uncle until Saturday. Man what an awesome day!


My father also got the chance to speak with his cousin, Jeff Sterling, Jr., the man who taught him how to use a typewriter.  My father could not stop talking about that conversation and it made me feel good knowing I was able to make that reunion happen for him.

So in conclusion, this is a story of family torn apart by tragedy and misfortune, but comprised of descendants called by God for a specific purpose--working to complete the same mission; independently, but in synchronicity.  Yes, I connected with Vernadette Taylor on Ancestry.com, but Shawn Taylor's diligent & meticulous research discovered Cassie Wilson's tree and it was Cassie's beautiful, open heart that led to a reunion of families and a healing of hearts.  Many lives were blessed that week and continues to overflow!

Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

His purpose was simple: To bring us together to complete a bigger mission and answer a prayer. It was not by chance we all reunited.  On January 4, 2012, two and a half months after Maxine and Jeanette’s meeting, Jeanette Sterling-Emery died at the age of 101.  When Vickie notified me of her passing, instantaneously I realized we were all playing a role for a bigger purpose and none of our lives would ever be the same. 

I’m proud to say I was apart of this amazing experience.

There is more on this story.  To be continued in the not so distant future...

*Note to Reader: The surname "Sterling" is displayed interchangeably with "Stirling" due to various spellings in discovered historical documents.