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 To find the FIRST name of this maternal tree, Binky Shields, my 5th great-grandmother in any surviving historical documents.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 Ancestry.com, 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 Ancestry.com 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 & Ancestry.com, 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 Ancestry.com 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 GenealogyBank.com 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 23andme.com 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.