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  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  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 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 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, 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 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 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 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 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, 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.