Sunday, October 18, 2015

NEW DISCOVERY: The Newspaper Death Notice of my Great Grandmother, Florence Hamilton Williams

Yesterday, I visited my 94 year old grandfather, Milton Williams in Oakland, California. He told me that although he was 6 years old when his mother died, he remembered certain details about the funeral.  He remembered asking family members why they were crying.  He then said "I even remember the church where her funeral occurred.  It was on 9th & Chester and it was an AME church...'Chapel...' something."  I Googled "9th and Chester AME Church" on my phone and the following URL appeared in the search results:

I asked him, "Was it Parks Chapel AME Church?"

He said "THAT'S IT, YES, YES, THAT'S IT!  How did you do that?"  I explained to him how I used the internet on my phone.  He was so amazed!

I also told him that I found out his grandfather was a Mason and he his face lit up like a Christmas tree.  He asked me how I discovered that and I told him that I found his death notice on  His grandfather, Jasper Hamilton, died May 18, 1930 in Oakland, California.

From my phone, I showed him the following newspaper article:

He couldn't believe it!

He then suggested that I look for his mother's death notice in the Oakland Tribune which I never thought to pursue because I already obtained her death certificate from the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder's Office.  Florence Hamilton Williams died January 25, 1927 in Oakland, California. Previously, I did search for her name on and, but for months, I came up empty-handed.  HE WAS ADAMANT there had to be a death notice because he said his family was "very big on publishing things like that in the paper."

His passion about it motivated me to search tonight, but just when I was about to give up (since I'd been down this road before), I changed my search criteria to HIS NAME and it appeared at the top of the search results on I called him immediately!

At 94 years old, my grandfather's mind never ceases to amaze me!  He remembers so much in great detail.

What's most amazing to me is now, I have a location for his father's origins!  All my grandfather knew about his father was that he "was from Texas."  He was told his parents separated shortly before her death and that his father moved backed to Texas.  When he received word his wife died, he sent letters and clothes to his son, but he died a year or two later.  He was never told anything else about his father.  With so little information, I've searched for his father the last two years with no good fortune, but now, I at least know he was from Dallas, Texas!

The search continues...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Finding My Maternal Ancestors: A Dream Come True!

In my very first post, I mentioned that my grandmother taught me to memorize the previous seven generations of my maternal ancestors at the age of 8 years old.  I am so thankful to my grandmother, the late Leona Whitley Williams, for speaking their names into my mind and heart. Those names came to life through subsequent genealogical research. That research manifested into discovering living descendants.

This branch of my family tree was the beginning of my journey--it's where and why I started researching my family 12 years ago.  I had three initial goals:
  1. To validate the stories I was told 
  2. To find out if there were unidentified living descendants from collateral lines
  3. To find the FIRST name of this maternal tree, Binky Shields, my 5th great-grandmother in any surviving historical documents.
I've now completed the first two!

Fanny Shields Page
Oral history states my 5th great grandmother, Binky Shields, a slave of a Louisiana Planter with the surname "Shields," bore a daughter named Nellie Shields (b.1842).  Nellie bore three girls prior to the end of the Civil War, Nancy (b.1852), Martha (b.1858) and Fanny Shields (b.1860)--all fathered by the slave owner or one of his sons.  After the Civil War, Nellie married a man with the surname "Washington" and bore her last two children: Gabriel and Delia Washington, better known as "Aunt Dutsey." I descend from Fanny Shields who is my 3x great grandmother.

My grandmother said Nancy married, but she could not remember her married name.  She did remember that Martha Shields' married name was "ENGLAND" and Fanny married my 3x great grandfather, Jack PAGE II. According to my grandmother, Aunt Dutsey never married and Gabriel became a teacher and moved away never to be heard from again.

When I asked her where did they all live during this time period, she said "they all came out of New Orleans." However, years later, when I asked where her grandmother, Cora Page (Fanny's daughter) was born, thinking deeply and out loud, she said, "Was it Houma?  I'm not sure."

I'll coming back to that in a minute...

While visiting Baton Rouge, Louisiana to attend a family reunion on my father's side in 2006, my wife and I stopped by the Louisiana State Archives to do genealogical research. I told the staff who & what I was looking for and they suggested that I take a look at their 12 volume set of South Louisiana Records written by Father Donald J. Hebert.  These civil court and church records are abstracts from courthouses, as well as Catholic and Protestant churches in both Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes.  One the volumes contained the courthouse marriage records for Nancy, Martha and Fanny Shields!  They were all married in Houma, Louisiana which is located in Terrebonne Parish! 
  1. Nancy married Henry MOORE on Jan 2, 1870 (See Document Here).  
  2. Martha married Frank ENGLAND on May 20, 1976 (See Document Here). 
  3. Fanny married Jack PAGE on August 11, 1977 (See Document Here).
Benjamin England & 
Dora Gautreaux England
With that information, I went back to the census records from 1880-1930 and looked for more information on Martha and Nancy (I already had Fanny's information). I discovered that Martha had three sons: George Monroe England, Benjamin England and Isaac Morris (adopted).  George had two children: James England and Beatrice Carbo (adopted).  Benjamin and his wife, Dora, had 4 children, Olivia, Alberta, Wilbert & Martha.

Nancy Shields Moore had 5 children living, although she stated she bore 11 total: James, Joseph, Martha, Nancy & Bertha. I had no other information on them since I did not know the married names of the girls and the sons seem to "vanish" in the records.

Alberta England Lawrence
Then, in February of 2011, on, I met my 4th cousin, once removed, Renee Lawrence-Harrison, 2x great-granddaughter of Martha Shields and Frank England. I'd received one of those "green leaf" hints appearing on Martha's profile posted on my tree informing me of a potential match of information. Renee and I have stayed in consistent contact over the years and shared much information and photographs. Renee explained that she descends from Benjamin England, her great-grandfather and his daughter, Alberta (Renee's grandmother). Alberta married Alexander Lawrence and had three sons, Alexander, Joseph and Frank (Renee's father).

Mildred Iles Lavizzo
During that time, Renee told me she also knew some the descendants of Martha's sister, Nancy Shields Moore, in particular, Nancy's great-grandchildren, Nancy Lavizzo and her sister, the late Millicent Lavizzo Russell.  Subsequent research revealed that their late mother, Millicent Iles Lavizzo, was the first African American Supervisor of Teachers for Chicago Public Schools and there is a school named after her.  Through multiple contacts on Facebook &, I located Nancy Lavizzo in 2013 and her nephew, Corey, last year, however, Nancy and I did not speak by phone until April of 2015.

Here's how it happened:

Aurora McGraw Goode
On February 16th, 2015, I received another "green leaf" on my tree, but this time, it was Nancy Shields Moore's profile. The hint led me to a tree showing Nancy, her husband, Henry Moore and several children whose names I recognized. I reached out to the owner of the tree, Barbara Goode, Nancy Shields Moore's great-granddaughter and we quickly discovered we were cousins. Barbara's descends from her grandmother, Martha Moore McGraw who had 4 children: Clarence, Evans, Jr., Robert and Aurora (Barbara's mother).

In fact, she also knew Nancy Lavizzo. Barbara introduced me to her sister and we spoke almost every day. They sent phenomenal pictures of their mother, Aurora and her aunt, Bertha Moore, daughter of Henry Moore and Nancy Shields. I recognized Bertha's name from the list of Nancy Shields Moore's children and the newspaper obituary for Aunt Dutsey that I discovered on that mentioned her alongside her sister, Nancy Moore Lavizzo!

Nancy Shields Moore
(Child is unknown)
I forwarded the Goode Family photos to Nancy Lavizzo and she contacted me immediately!  Neither of us could contain our excitement!  She asked me how I acquired these photos of her family members and I told her how I met the Goodes online and they were more closely related to her than I was. We spoke via phone for over an hour and a half and by the end of the conversation, we were both crying!  Nancy shared wonderful information about her family and more pictures as well!  Nancy actually has two pictures of her great grandmother, Nancy Shields Moore, my 3rd great-grandmother's sister!!!  Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I would see another picture of the Shields' sisters!
Nancy Moore Lavizzo
(Standing) & Bertha Moore

I expressed to Barbara, Renee, Corey and Nancy that I've been searching for them since 2003 and all my life I wanted to know their whereabouts. This was a dream come true!  My heart was just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude!  They all expressed longing to know their history!  This was, yet again, another powerful moment of confirmation for me--that the seeds planted by my grandmothers in me and the years of research were not in vain.  I simply have no reason to believe any of these events occurred by chance!

A Note to all of you genetic genealogy enthusiasts: You'll notice that most of these relatives are all women who share a common ancestor, Nellie Shields Washington, through generations of maternal lineages (except Renee who is related on her father's side).  Well, it stands to reason that we would all share the same maternal haplogroup. Utilizing I've tested, my aunt, and several cousins who all descend from Cora Page (Fanny's daughter) and we all share the same maternal haplogroup.  My hope is that my newly discovered cousins will test and validate what we already know.  That will be fun so stay tuned!

Additional photos posted below:

Bertha Moore (right),
Woman unknown (Left)
Close up of Nancy Shields Moore
Woman unknown (Right), Bertha (Middle), Aurora (Right)

This last photo is Fanny Shields Page and the late Janet Mae Goode Payne, Barbara's youngest sister. I was stunned to see such resemblance between them.

Fanny & Janet Mae Goode (Aurora's Daughter)
To my 5x Great Grandmother, Grandma Binky: I'm knocking on your door.  I know I will find you!  It's just a matter of time and I will not rest until I do.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

William Maddox, the White Confederate Who Loved a Black Family

As I continue researching my 3rd great-grandmother, Artimease Wederstrandt Benton, a former slave and widow of a Civil War United States Colored Troop (USCT),  I'm amazed at the untold, underlying stories revealed during her life and times.  It's taught me that the Antebellum and Postbellum South--Louisiana in particular, have a very complex history.  When I started these research projects, like most African Americans, my presumptions were that racism and segregation would prove to show my family in complete isolation from the social mainstream and an ethnic divide analogous to the parting of the Red Sea. Yet, my Dear Mother always said "there's two sides to every coin" and I'm seeing that other side as I examine the role a man named William Maddox played in Artimease's life.

As I mentioned in my March 2013 post, "BENTON and JACKSONS: The Truth Revealed," the 1880 U.S. Federal Census in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana showed a household inhabiting Artimease with 5 of her 7 children. The household next door, 247 America Street, included her sister, "Wartha Wederstrandt," and according to oral history, her common-law husband, a white male named William Maddox, a carpenter.  According to the census, Maddox was 55 years old and Wartha was 36 which places their birth dates in 1825 and 1844, respectively, as well as their birth locations in Louisiana.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I continued to research Maddox.  When I examined the 1870 census in East Baton Rouge Parish, I discovered a white male, age 40, named William Maddox (b. 1830) from Ohio, living with "Waffie" Wederstrandt (another known alias of Wartha), age 25 and Joseph Wederstrandt, age 15, both born in Louisiana and listed as "Mulatto."  With his occupation listed a "Carpenter," his real estate property is valued at $150 and personal property valued at $100.

In the 1860 U.S. Federal Census in East Baton Rouge Parish, nearly 8 months before the Civil War began (and 5 years before slavery ended), "Wm G Maddox," age 30, is listed alone as an "Overseer" with personal property valued at $500 and similar to the 1880 census, a native of Louisiana.  To date, I find no other record of Maddox prior to 1860, but I will need to visit the Louisiana State Archives and the East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse for further investigation.

Death Notice on William G. Maddox
I searched and found this newspaper death notice in the Baton Rouge Daily Advocate dated February 17, 1900 regarding the passing of William G. Maddox. It states Maddox, who died on Valentine's Day, was to have his funeral held at his residence on America Street.  The last sentence of the paragraph states he "was a member of Company "B," Ninth Battalion Infantry." I checked, a website containing U.S. Military records online, to prove Maddox's military service and to my surprise, I discovered he was a Confederate Soldier!
Below, are Maddox's Confederate PRISONER OF WAR muster rolls showing his Battalion was captured near Port Hudson and paroled in July of 1863.


I also checked the National Park Service website which also contains a database on Civil War historical facts such as soldiers, regiments & battles.  I found the following description of the 9th Battalion, Louisiana Infantry:

"OVERVIEW: 9th Infantry Battalion [also called 17th Battalion] was formed at Camp Moore, Louisiana, during March, 1862. It contained four companies, and some of the men were raised in Rapides Parish. The unit served in Gregg's and Maxey's Brigade in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana and was captured in the fight for Port Hudson. After being exchanged, it was not reorganized. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Boyd and Major Tom Bynum were its field officers."

What is so intriguing about this information is that Artimease's husband, Thomas Benton, served as a U.S. Colored Troop from 1864-1867 with the 67th & 65th regiments--both organized at Port Hudson which was only 20 miles north of Baton Rouge--the place the regiments mustered out after the war in 1867.  In addition, Wartha's death record states she was born in Bayou Sara, Louisiana and the 67th Regiment moved there during an expedition in 1864.

So, am I to believe that a white male Confederate soldier and former overseer of a plantation, upon his capture and parole from being a Prisoner of War in Port Hudson, establishes a friendship with 3 former slaves-- an African American soldier fighting for the opposition, his future wife, and her sister with whom he develops a lifelong relationship that lasts for more than 30 years????

Affidavit from William G. Maddox
Apparently, more circumstantial evidence I uncovered supports this theory.  In July of 2013, I ordered Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File preserved at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Thomas Benton died in 1877 from Tuberculosis--12 years after the war ended. By that time, Artimease bore four children with Benton.  She applied for the pension 15 years later, in August of 1892, after legislation was passed a few years prior, allowing widows of Union soldiers to collect benefits.  By that time, all 7 of Artimease's children were born.  The 65-page file of documents collected over a 32 year period contained Benton's military record, medical exams, muster rolls, letters from the War Department, letters from Artimease and her family members, and general affidavits from people who personally knew the couple and their children. These individuals would also attest to the true events surrounding the Bentons' lives and the nature of their relationship.

William G. Maddox's signature can be found on several of these documents as a witness to the various claims made by Artimease and others. Maddox also provided his own sworn affidavits, as shown to the right, describing his knowledge of the family.  He states he "kept a record of the births of the children of claimant and soldier having known them intimately."  This comes as no surprise given his experience as an "overseer" in his previous line of work. The purpose of this affidavit was to provide written proof, on Artimease's behalf, that her youngest child at the time of Thomas' death, Nellie, was still a minor (under the age of 16) when Artimease filed the application for the pension, thus, making Artimease eligible to receive additional benefits for Nellie.
General Affidavit by William G. Maddox

It should be noted that Artimease was illiterate during this time period and there is no doubt in my mind that Maddox assisted her in the review, completion and processing of these documents. Shown to the right is an additional document signed by Maddox illustrating his direct involvement in assisting Artimease with her case for eligibility of widow's pension benefits.

In retrospect, it became apparent to me that, from the vantage point of the children, Maddox was truly their uncle.  I commonly refer to him as "Uncle Will" because I believe as the only male figure and role model, he must have been an influential figure in their lives.  My great aunt, Marguerite, told me that her grandfather, Edward Benton (Artimease's son), was a carpenter and that many of the men in the family derived from a long line of carpenters.  Well, given the fact that Edward, the oldest, was only 7 when his father died, implies that he more than likely learned the trade from"Uncle Will," as did his brothers whose death records all indicate they were carpenters by trade.  Lastly, I discovered newspaper articles on that show Ernest Gibbons Benton, Artimease's youngest son, also purchased property sold to him by Maddox--again, more evidence of Maddox's involvement in the prosperity of these children.

In summary, William G. Maddox's influence in the lives of this African American family can not be denied. This man, a former plantation overseer who risked his life to support the Confederate States of America--a government dedicated to preserving the institution of slavery, has a change of heart and chooses a different path for his life at war's end.  He appears to do everything he can to support Artimease and her children after the death of her husband.  In my opinion, he loved Wartha until the day he died and he demonstrated that, not only by his devotion to her and their interracial marriage that wasn't recognized by the United States Constitution until 1967, but also, by helping her family through one of their darkest days.  In some respects, given that he and Wartha never bore children, it is conceivable that he loved his nieces and nephews as if they were his own children.

These new revelations in my research have definitely given me a different perspective on the south, the war and what it meant to it's participants.  As I stated before, Louisiana's history is a complex one, that when studied, must be examined as carefully and impartially as possible. Also, this information encourages me more to push my continual message that when it comes to the issue of the Civil War and Slavery, we as Americans need to have an honest national conversation about what happened and it's impact on both sides--the North and South, Black and White.  I simply don't believe as a Nation, we will ever begin to heal until that task is completed.  

Nevertheless, I came away with a newfound respect for "Uncle Will"--for his courage and his character.  To me, his is a true story of redemption.  

I like this side of the coin.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Nine Year Search Has Come to an End!!!


For nine long years I've searched for my 2nd great-grandmother's maiden name and I finally found it! I acquired her death record in 2013, but there was no vital information on it.

She is Mamie PENNY, wife of Edward Benton, my 2nd great-grandfather.  My grandfather's sister, my Aunt Marguerite, told me her mother, Artimease (Benton) Willis-Jackson and her siblings were born in Gramercy, Louisiana.  This Social Security Application Index of her youngest sibling, Ernest Benton, Sr., confirms the birth location and now presents their mother's maiden name.  HELLO GRANDMA MAMIE!

U.S. Social Security Application and Claims Index, 1936-2007

Below is her death record--the only other information I had on Mamie.

According to Aunt Marguerite, her mother told her Mamie died at a young age--when Artimease, my great-grandmother & the oldest of seven children, was 15 years old. Artimease, and her father, Edward Benton, had to raise her younger brothers and sisters.  Edward was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  When his wife died, he moved his family from Gramercy (in St. James Parish) back to East Baton Rouge Parish. Their youngest child, Earnest was just 2 years old when their mother died.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Be, or Not To Be a Wederstrandt: DNA Answered the Question

Wederstrandt Benton
In March of 2013, I posted a blog entitled “Bentons and Jacksons: The Truth Revealed” which detailed new information my cousin, James Hill III, and I discovered about my paternal grandfather’s maternal side of his family.  One of the highlights mentioned was discovering my 3x Great-Grandmother’s maiden name, Artimease (or Arthemise) Wederstrandt.  On May 14, 2013, a gentleman by the name of Herndon Blake Wederstrandt happened to find my blog during a Google search and posted the following comment on my blog:

Sir, my name is Herndon Wederstrandt, I might be able to help you, please reply back if interested.

Herndon Blake
Needless to say, I was very intrigued and emailed him right away.  From that day forward James and I began to establish a relationship with Herndon and explore the possibility we may be relatives.  Herndon, better known as “Blake,” expressed great confidence that we were related—not only because of the uncommon last name, but also due to the picture of Artimease he saw on my blog post.  He stated that she looked very much like his ancestors. He sent me a picture of his 1st cousin, 6x removed, Margaret Smith Wederstrandt Morse, to show the resemblance to Artimease and I was dumbfounded!

Margaret Smith
Wederstrandt Morse
Nonetheless, I was initially skeptical because being a descendant of slaves, you become very caution about any and all documentation concerning your enslaved ancestors-- or as my dear friend and colleague, Nicka Smith, brilliantly labeled them, our "Slavecestors.”  How did I know Artimease was really a Wederstrandt by birth?  In some cases, freedmen didn't retain the surname of the their former enslavers and some changed their names entirely for various reasons.  If she was a Wederstrandt by birth, which parent carried the name?  In the aforementioned post, I stated that it was discovered Artimease had an older sister named Hiawartha Wederstrandt, but on the 1880 Census, Hiawartha stated her father was born in Maryland, and Artimease did not answer the question which left doubt they had the same father.  I wasn’t sure.  There were so many unanswered questions!

However, one document that supported the notion of kinship was a page in Artimease’s Widows Pension Application.  These applications were filed by widows of Civil War Veterans who believed themselves to be eligible for pension benefits.  I ordered this pension file from the National Archives in Washington, DC in July of 2013.  Below is a portion of a sworn affidavit from John Alexander, a former U.S. Colored Union Troop, who testified that he personally knew Artimease and her late husband, my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Benton.  It specifically states that Alexander knew "Arthemise Wetherstrane by witch name she wore off her father..." As an original and primary source, this document was critical.

Document from Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File
Document from Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File

In July of 2013, while attending the Benton Family Reunion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, James, my dad, my cousin, Tonya and I, arranged to meet Blake and his family for dinner.  We had a great & memorable time!  I mentioned to Blake that in December of 2010, I met a woman named Nancy Wederstrandt on two months after I met James, but we never established who a possible common ancestor was. Blake explained that Nancy was his 2nd cousin, once removed with Herndon's dad being her second cousin.  They never physically met, but do correspond with each other periodically. Their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is Robert (Pronounced "RO-BEAR") Carroll Wederstrandt (b. 1858) and his wife, Ida Loula (Williams) Wederstrandt. Robert was the son of Robert Charles Wederstrandt (b. 1832) and grandson of John Blake Wederstrandt (b. 1808).

The Wederstrandts: James Hill III (Far left), Tonya Castle (4th from left), Blake Wederstrandt (middle-rear), Amy Wederstrandt (2nd from right), Michael Willis (far right), Sanders Willis, Jr. (seated, front)
I asked Blake to take the DNA test offered by because several of my family members tested with 23andme:
  • James & his mother, Gloria
  • My grandfather's siblings, Edward Willis and Marguerite Vernell 
  • My dad and I
The MRCA for my grandfather's siblings and my dad is my great-grandmother Artimease Benton Willis-Jackson (not be confused with her grandmother Artimease Wederstrandt Benton).  Her father was Edward Benton, son of Artimease Wederstrandt Benton.  James & Gloria descend from Edward's half sister, Maude Jackson which make the MRCA for all 6 of us Artimease Wederstrandt Benton.

Unfortunately, Blake did not match any of us!  We were all very disappointed, but we did not give up hope.  It is important to remember that DNA inheritance is random and the further the MRCA, the harder it is to detect matching segments of DNA.  I inherited approximately 50% of my dad's DNA and he inherited approximately 50% of his dad's DNA which means I inherited approximately 25% of my grandfather's DNA, 12.5% of my great-grandmother's DNA, and so forth.  This potential common ancestor with Blake would be my 4th great-grandfather, so you can image how small the percentage is and the probability of detection.  Yet, many descendants inherit different pieces of the same puzzle, so the only alternative course of action is to test more people--which brings me to Nancy because she was actually born a generation before Blake.

I'd lost touch with Nancy, but in January of 2015, she emailed me to share with me a 1910 census record she discovered listing a mulatto woman named "Martha Wederstrandt."  I told her I was aware of the record and that Martha was, in fact, Hiawartha! I also let her know I met her cousin, Blake and was in constant communication with him.  On August 2, 2015, Nancy pleasantly surprised me with an email stating she tested with AncestryDNA offered by  Since the rest of us tested with a different company, the only way we could compare our results is by uploading our RAW data to a third-party website called that allows you to compare DNA information from 23andme.comAncestryDNA and FTDNA.  Nancy reported that GEDMatch results yielded a match with Blake--3.9 generations from the MRCA, Gloria--4.1 generations from the MRCA and James--4.6 generations from the MRCA.

We are indeed Wederstrandts!

The difference of 3.9 generations between Nancy and Blake makes sense because their MRCAs, Robert Carroll & Ida Wederstrandt, are 3 generations apart from Nancy and 4 generations from Blake.  In Gloria's case, Artimease's unknown father is 4 generations apart from Gloria and Robert's father, Robert CHARLES Wederstrandt, is 4 generations from Nancy, thus, the numbers would suggest he is Artimease's father.  It is plausible because she was born around 1853 and he was born around 1832, but could he be old enough to be Hiawartha's father?  According to all available census records from 1870-1910, it was reported consistently that she was born between 1844-45.  That would make Robert Charles a 12-13 year old father, however it must be noted that the 1900 census shows Hiawartha's mother, Antoinette King, born in 1831 in Louisiana making her a 13-14 year old mother.  I found no other record of her existence prior to that.

In any case, the journey continues and another branch to explore.  New answers have lead to more questions and more stones to be overturned.  I look forward to it!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Another DNA Discovery: The Descendants of Robert Williams - Grandson of Julia Lee

This "DNA stuff" has me hooked!

For those of us who have spent years researching our lineages and building our family trees, we know all too well the many brick walls we face in our journey. If you descend from African slaves, those brick walls are even thicker!  Genetic Genealogy is becoming increasingly popular due to the opportunities it presents to knock down some of those walls.  I am of the belief that Genetic Genealogy, when used to compliment traditional genealogical research techniques (versus using it as a primary source for research), can be a very powerful tool to break brick walls, bridge gaps in identifying ancestors and reunite families.

Elodie Schaeffer Carter
On July 7th, 2014, my paternal cousin, Shawn Taylor, introduced me to Rickey Carter and his wife, Elodie (Schaeffer) Carter, on, the website for a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company that provides genetic testing and analysis of their customers' DNA.  Utilizing their "Advanced: Family Inheritance" feature which allows two individuals to see the actual location on an entire genome they share identical segments of DNA, I discovered that Elodie's genomes matched my father and several of his third cousins (see the graphic illustration at the end of this post). Those cousins included Shawn's father, James Taylor, Michael Taylor, Kirk Young, Marva Harris, and a 4th cousin, Dolores Brown and her daughter, Nija--both previously discovered on 23andme. Excluding the last two people, all of these individuals were personally known to me and each other.  The common ancestor among all these individuals would be my 2x great-grandmother, Lizzie (Williams) Taylor aka "Mama Lizzie" who's lineage I previously wrote about. Dolores and Nija connect through an ancestor two generations above Mama Lizzie: her grandmother, Julia Lee.  Based on 23andme's predicted relationships with each known cousin, I was quite confident Elodie descended from one of Mama Lizzie's siblings (i.e, the common ancestor would be Lizzie's mother, Mary Haile Lee), but I needed proof.

To explain my presumption, I take you back to 1990 when I interviewed my great-grandmother, Essie Beatrice (Taylor) Mckinley, better known as "Essie B."  She spoke of her mother, Lizzie's siblings: Johnny Stone, Rob Williams and Kate Williams.  Essie stated Lizzie was the daughter of her mother's slave owner, Col. Richard H. Haile, but her stepfather, Sheppard Williams (aka "Shep"), raised her. Her older brother, Johnny Stone, was the son of another white male who's name is unknown. Sheppard fathered Mary's last two children, Rob & Kate. Many relatives knew of Johnny & Kate, but no one recognized the name "Rob."  I mention that fact to emphasize had it not been for Essie, much of what I'm about to tell you would be nearly impossible to conclude.  Essie only mentioned Rob's name nothing more.  The only other info she provided was that "Aunte Kate's" daughters or nieces moved her to New Orleans where she subsequently died.

Larry Schaeffer
Over the course of several months, Elodie and I discussed our family trees hoping to find the common ancestor, but part of the problem was not knowing which side of her family I related.  Her mother tested with 23andme and the results showed no one in my family matched her, thus, the process of elimination, stated the obvious-- we are related to her father, Larry Schaeffer.  Elodie shared with me that her father and uncles carried their mother's surname, "Schaeffer"--not their father's which is "WILLIAMS." She was unsure of her paternal grandfather's name which she suspected to be either "Ronald" or "Robert Williams."  Despite my excitement, their was no certainty the common ancestor was on that branch of her tree.  Even if her paternal grandfather was "Robert Williams," the age would not match with "my Robert."  My Robert was born in 1873 which was too old to be Larry's father.  Also, her uncle told her that his father died in late December of 1971 or 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  As a result, I spent months examining her paternal grandmother's side (which she knew more about)--if for no other reason, to disprove a relationship on that branch.

Bobby V. Schaeffer
April 14, 2015.  Elodie and I are texting each other throughout the morning and I suddenly receive the following text from her:

"You're gonna kill me too...Look what I found..."

Attached to the message was Bobby Schaeffer's Funeral Program from 2003--her paternal uncle.  The obituary states he was the son of Robert Williams, Jrand Valerie Schaeffer.  Now that we know that her grandfather was named after his father, Robert Williams, Sr., it's certainly plausible the elder Robert's age could match my Robert Williams. It also states he is survived by several family members including, but not limited to four brothers, Larry, Tommy, Jimmy & Charley.

Obituary of Bobby V. Schaeffer
Elodie searched the U,S, Social Security Death Index and discovered a Robert Williams born July 25, 1908 and died in December of 1972.

For months, I searched, a website that hosts historical newspapers around the country, for old copies of New Orleans' Times Picayune looking for a death notice in the obituary sections with no success.  Suddenly, I realized if Robert, Jr. died in LATE December of 1972, his death notice wouldn't be published until January of 1973.  I changed my search criteria and discovered his death notice (shown below).  It states that Robert, the son of Robert Williams, Sr. and Mary Ford, died on Dec 31, 1972 in New Orleans.  His surviving siblings were Gertrude, Eli, Henry, Charles, Sheppard and Johnny.  The first three names Elodie recognized because she remembered her uncle mentioned those names.  The last two names caught my attention because of the name associations of the aforementioned brother of Robert, Sr., Johnny Stone and Robert's father, Sheppard Williams.  Clearly, Robert, Sr. named these last two children after them.  The obituary also mentions Elodie's father, Larry and his brother--all with the surname WILLIAMS, including Bobby Schaeffer, referred to as "Robert Williams III."  Lastly, it states Robert, Jr. was a native of St, Francisville, Louisiana.  That is where my ancestors came from!!!

Newspaper Obituary for Robert Williams, Jr., Elodie (Shaeffer) Carter's grandfather.

Shortly after this milestone in my research, I discovered the union of Robert Williams, Sr. and Mary Ford produced the following 11 children: Odile, Gertrude, Charles, Viola, Sheppard, Robert, Jr., Henry, James, Johnny, Elijah & Morris. What a wonderful discovery--to find the descendants of Robert Williams, Sr., my 2x great-grandmother brother...and all I had was his name!!!

DNA research continues to amaze me!

This graph illustrates shared DNA between Elodie Carter and some of my other known relatives in a one-to-many relationship validating the existence of close common ancestor.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Where Was This Picture Taken? (UPDATE)

I told one of my co-workers about the picture my cousin sent me and he found this article about Ferries in the 1950's that may have solved the mystery.

The 8th paragraph from the bottom states: 

Another "walking beam" vessel, the SACRAMENTO, was also a 1922 rebuild, but her hull and machinery were launched in 1877 as the NEWARK. In 1954 the SACRAMENTO was retired, stripped and towed south to Redondo Beach for use as a public fishing pier for a good stretch of years. Today she sits on the bottom of the ocean, splattered into a million pieces. 

The paragraph before that one states the following:

"Attracting as much attention was the legendary sidewheeler EUREKA. Following the close of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s railferry terminal in Sausalito on February 28, 1941, she was transferred to the Oakland run. Her superstructure was a 1922 rebuild but her hull and machinery dated back to 1890 when launched as the UKIAH. Her demise came just-like-that. At midnight in early 1957, after picking up "Shasta Daylight" arrivals at the Mole, the EUREKA’S crank pin snapped enroute to the City. Repairs could have been minimal, but that was beside the point. The front office retired her, sentiment notwithstanding, and donated her to the Hyde Street Pier."

“Shasta Daylight arrivals” refers to the SHASTA DAYLIGHT TRAIN owned by Southern Pacific Railroad.  I previously wrote about this train because my great-grandfather, William Leon Whitley, Jr., was the Head Chef on that train for nearly 50 years.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Where Was This Picture Taken?

My cousin emailed this photo to me today, but we can't figure out where it was taken.  The two young girls are my grandmother, Leona Edna Mae Whitley (Right) and her younger sister, Coralee Whitley, natives of Berkeley, CA. I would assume this picture was taken around 1930 even though it is dated "Oct 27 1938."  Leona and Coralee were born in 1924 & 1925 so that would make them 14 and 13 respectively, and they are clearly not that old.

Was this picture actually taken in Sacramento, or on a boat known as "The Sacramento?"  If the former, was it the Delta King, or its sister ship, the Delta Queen?  Hmmm...another research project.

My grandmother passed away in 2004 so, my first step will be to ask my Aunt Coralee who is 89 years old.  Hopefully, she will remember this photo.

The backside of this photo reads: "GENUINE KRYSTAL GLOSS - GUARANTEED FOREVER - BEAR PHOTO SERVICE -OCT. 27 1938"

I Googled "Bear Photo Service" and found the following links:

Palo Alto Historical Association - Photograph Collection

Scott's Photographica Collection

WorldCat: Bear Photo Service