Faces of America: Episode 1

Last night I eagerly watched the first episode in the new PBS Series, Faces of America, facilitated by Henry Louis Gates.   There’s been a lot of buzz in the genealogy community in anticipation of the show.  It comes at the heels of Gates’ popular African-American Lives & African-American Lives 2 series. After the show, I then participated in a fun post-show chat hosted over at Geneabloggers to talk about our perceptions and thoughts.

Thomas has put together a RSS feed to see the geneablogsphere reactions to the show that are all interesting to read.   Here are my thoughts:

  • Many have commented on the desire to have seen more of the research process explained in the show.  I understand the show producers may have wanted to focus more on the emotional connections for the show, but in the books that have been written to compliment the African American Lives series and the Finding Oprah’s Roots show, there is more detail and emphasis on the research process.  I have both books, In Search of Our Roots & Finding Oprah’s Roots and even learned a few tips and strategies while reading them.   The benefit of the show is that in can increase the awareness among the general population and I am hopeful that those that are more serious will take the time to read the books by either looking for them at their local public library or by purchasing outright.  I would like to see a companion book published for Faces of America as well.
  • I’m a big proponent of the social web.  I’ve posted before on this topic, but I’ll say it again – I do think there is a missed opportunity from the show producers to leverage the interest and use it for greater genealogical good. With African-American Lives 2, they did establish an online forum for users to share their personal stories and used tagging to help structure the stories that were being shared. But, can you imagine the database that could be built if they also asked people to fill in 3 or 4 generation ancestor charts?  They could have an online “facilitator” to help answer people’s questions and guide them to well-established resources, or host their own chat sessions for interested parties.  With 4 episodes to air, this could have been a several weeks long endeavor and really capitalize on the generated interest (the website pretty much crashed last night; there was interest!). Many of the stories presented on the older show sites have details, but much of it is unstructured. As a knowledge management and information professional I highly encourage structure.
  • After watching the show last night, I began to think about the upcoming Who Do You Think You Are series.  I’ve never seen the UK show, so off to YouTube I went in search of episodes.  I watched two last night – that of actor David Suchet and also that of Zoe Wannamaker.  They were excellent!  It was cool to see David Suchet b/c he’s known for playing the Agatha Christie character Hercule Poirot. I’ve not seen the British shows with him, but I have read many a Hercule Poirot mystery. I think I have found a new television series to watch and I posted part 1 of his episode as my Featured Video in the sidebar on the right. I am eager to see the NBC show even more now after watching these episodes.
  • Did you promote the show among your friends and family? I certainly did! I have some coworkers who I dabble in their family trees every now and then and so I told them all and sent them each a little extra piece of family history  — one of them is a descendant of long lineage associated with eastern tennessee whom I recently found a book in the Internet Archive with information about the emigrating ancestor that was written in the 1920s; another has ties to Hawaii and I shared with her a new website/blog focusing on Hawaiian genealogy that could be a useful resource moving forward; and the third I was able to send pictures of her ancestors headstones that were just added to FindAGrave within the past two months. Just a little bit to keep the motivation going :-)

So, I’m excited at the prospects and do still look forward to the additional episodes.  It had its strenghts and weaknesses, but overall I am glad for this opportunity to promote the need for us all to more closely study and understand our family histories.   If you missed it, you can watch in online.

He Was the 7th Son

Today is my grandfather’s birthday – Herman Robinson.  He died in 1986, but had he lived he would have been 84 years old today – born February 5, 1926 to Lewis “Christopher Columbus” Robinson & Lucinda Lennon in New York, New York.

Taken in 1975 at my parents' wedding.

Herman was the 7th son of his parents; no children born in between them and his two sisters were the 1st and 8th children.   In many cultures, there is a special significance tied to the 7th son; the number 7 in general has a long history of having mystical and religious signficance.   I wonder what he would have to say about that?

Herman was a very practical man. One of the most interesting stories my mother has told me about him is that he and his father-in-law never met.  Abraham (his father-in-law), being from the South, never had any interest in going up north to New York.  Herman on the other hand, having grown up in New York, certainly never had an interest in coming down south either given the ongoing racial tensions.  My parents moved from New York in 1978 and Herman finally came down south – once – for a visit that lasted about 36 hours.  In fact, we were living in the house I recently posted about when he visited.

Happy Birthday Herman!  Now, it is also my stepmother’s birthday! For privacy reasons,  I won’t give you details, but I wanted to at least wish her a very happy birthday indeed. :-)  She’ll have to watch out though, she may be online soon enough. Her alma mater, UNC_Greensboro’s yearbooks are currently being put online by the University of North Carolina – her year looks like it will be added within the next few weeks at the rate their going!

UNC Yearbooks Available Online 1894-1960

As a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I feel urged to share this news as widely as possible – the UNC Libraries are adding old issues of the school yearbook, the Yackety Yack (formerly the Hellenian), online to the Internet Archive.   I find some irony in the fact that I graduated from there, seeing as how the Kemp P. Battle, former University president from 1876-1891 was my ancestors’ slaveowner, but oh well.  (Kalonji tells me I should seek retribution :-)).

For anyone with persons of interest who went there during this time span it is definitely worth checking out! Read more on the NCGenWeb Blog.

New Year, New Blog Design

We are just about one month into 2010 and with the new year comes a new design for my blog.  If you read my posts through a feed reader, be sure to stop by for a visit and see the new look.  My previous design had an Asian theme, but I went for a more “clean” design for this year.  I plan to update my design each year, so who knows what will happen next year.

With this new design, I have more space, so here is what you’ll find on my sidebars now

  • my cartoon avatar — looks very much like me if I can say so myself!
  • connect w/ me – find me @ Ancestry, Footnote, Twitter, my “normal” family site & my genealogy database
  • RSS feed of ALL my blog posts — I have multiple blogs, so created a feed to show my posts from across them all
  • My USGenWeb site – I administer 6 sites in the USGenWeb project.  Maybe  you have research in these areas?
  • Genealogy Tweets – see real-time view of genealogy tweets on Twitter
  • Featured Video – i’ll try to regularly rotate a genealogy-related video

There is some quirkiness going on; for example, some of my embedded videos and pics are wider than the space allocated for blog posts, but I’ll fix that later.

Hope you like the new look.  And remember, my blog is mobile phone compatible, so don’t be shy to visit me on your smartphone. :-)

Finding My Way Back to the Cemetery

After talking to my mother for this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post, we began to talk about other things from the past and I asked her a question about one of the houses we used to live in when I was a child.  I remembered this house particularly because it was next to a cemetery.

The house was in Greensboro, North Carolina and with the help of Google Maps, we were able to locate it after *walking* up and down the street w/ the little orange man on Street View.  This is a picture of 1901 Armhurst Rd, Greensboro, NC where we lived at in 1981/1982.

After seeing the house online, I went back to a photo album of old pictures and found several pictures we’d taken in the yard.  My scanner is not working correctly right now, so the pictures will have to wait another day, but I was glad we found the house!

The next step was figuring out the cemetery.  We switched our view of the area from Street View to Satellite View and was able to see the land behind the house.  At first, we weren’t sure that it was still a cemetery, but then I noticed little white specks that looked like they could be headstones.

Wonderful! We’d confirmed it. Now, my mother remembered that at one end the cemetery dumped out onto the major road leading to our neighborhood, so back to Street View we went, dragging our little man over to the right spot.  At this level, it was much easier to see that it was indeed a cemetery.

Now, how would we find out the name? Google to the rescue! Literally 2 minutes later, my mom found a newspaper article about the cemetery after searching Google by entering the search string “cemetery phillips avenue greensboro”.  That led us to this article from October 9, 1907 about the disrepair the cemetery had fallen into over the years and it provided the name, Proximity Cemetery.   It started in 1895 as a burial ground for employees of nearby Cone Mills and about 2000 people are buried there; many though without identification.  It really was quite sad to read about how it had fared.  A little ironic that I started searching for it because of our proximity to it!

Now that I had a name, I went to the USGenWeb site for Guilford County, NC  site to see if it was listed there and it is, along with a link to it’s FindAGrave listing. On FindAGrave, I clicked on the first person that had a tombstone icon next to their name and wouldn’t you know that I knew the person who’d submitted it! His name is David and he’d uploaded a picture for me of Andrew Dennis McBride, father of author James McBride.  I’ve been working on James’ genealogy for a couple of years now and recenlty blogged about the death of his mother, the subject of his best-selling book, The Color of Water.  It was actually uncanny because I’d planned to email David earlier today to let him know of her passing.

It was nice to take this trip back in time to find and learn more about this cemetery.  I wish to find out more about the people who are buried there, so I have more research to do.  I feel like they are a part of my childhood too in some ways for of all the things I could remember about living in that house, the cemetery stands our first and foremost.  And I was 5 years old.

SNGF: Remember When?

Tonight’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun prompts us to recall a day from when we were 12 years old.

1) Remember when you were 12 years old? On a summer day out of school? What memory do you have of fun activities?

2) Tell us about that memory (just one – you can do more later if you want to) in a blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a comment on Facebook.

Instead of writing about myself however, I asked my parents to recall a day from when they were 12 years old.  Here were their responses.

My Mother : The day that she shared with me was November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.  She was 12 years old and in the 7th grade in Brooklyn, NY.  While she doesn’t remember the whole day, she does remember her teacher calling the classroom together crying, to let them know that the President had been killed.  My mother also remembers watching the funeral on television and that the horse drawing the casket “wasn’t acting right.”

Since she couldn’t remember much more about any particular day, this led us into a discussion about what her typical days were like at that age.  She grew up in the hustle and bustle of New York, living in the Cooper Park Projects.  Her and her brothers would take the city bus to school and her 7th grade year was the year she transitioned to junior high school.  After school, she’d go home, change, and they typically would spend the afternoon playing outside.  She did remember that she had to wear dresses at school, per school dress code. In fact, all the way through to her first job after my family moved to North Carolina she had to wear dresses, pants were never allowed.

My Father:  My father gave me flack about asking him – said he didn’t remember any particular day. So, I asked about what life was like in general.  He grew up in rural NC so back then, there was only one school black kids went to – Newbold.  He went to that school for all his school years.  He lived with his maternal grandfather, William Lawhorn.  Since my great-grandfather owned a tobacco farm, my father was one of the family members that helped work it, so Daddy would get up early before school to help, go to school, then come home and continue working until it was dark.    When my grandmother died in 2006, I had an opportunity to take a picture of the home so I can visualize exactly where Daddy grew up.

Home of William Lawhorn

Asking them this question was a nice opportunity to revive some of their childhood memories.  I also learned some other family tidbits, all the more to add to my collection of stories.

Now, what about me? I turned 12 years old in 1987 and would enter the 7th grade that year.  I attended Cochrane Middle  School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We’d been in Charlotte a year now since my parents divorced.  This school year was particularly important for me because this was the first time I was going into a new school year already knowing other kids! My parents moved a lot and I’d been attending a different school each year.  I too have difficulty remembering any one specific day, instead I remember a series of events.

For example, one day I was outside and slipped on ice in front of a whole group of 9th graders; I was so embarrassed! My friend Leslie and I used to get picked on (well, maybe not picked on, but teased) by a 9th grade boy and he in particular would call me Raw Deal.  Why? Because I used to always wear a black jacket that said “Raw Deal” on the back.  To this day I always think of him whenever I listen to my favorite L.L. Cool J. song – “I Need Love.”  In that song, he has a line where he says “..and I know that I’ll never dish another raw deal….”   And, I also remember being in the guidance counselor’s office one day charting the courses I would need to take from 9th to 12th grade in order to prep for college. Ah, the memories!

I wish I could share pictures from my 7th grade yearbook; I only recently pulled it back out from our storage behind the house.  But, my scanner is not hooked up, so that will have to wait another day.  Also, in the course of talking to my mother we ended up talking about some other things and taking a virtual trip through Greensboro in Google Maps.  That shall be the topic of my next post!

My Cousin’s DNA

My mother sent this to me and of course I had to post it.  I am related to Charles Barkley (I’m his 3rd cousin once removed), and last night on Lopez tonight they revealed his ethnic ancestry from  a DNA test.   Turns out he is:

  • 0% Asian
  • 14% Native American
  • 11% European
  • 75% Sub Suharan African

This came about as the result of a question as to who is “blacker” – he or Snoop Dogg :-) Well, I’m they don’t say which lineage of his they tested and he’s such a distant cousin I’m sure this is not relevant for me, but it was interesting anyway. 

Please note: Charles Barkley + George Lopez – not always politically correct…..

What Color is God?

“God is the color of water.”

Do you know where that quote comes from?  If you do, then you too have probably had the opportunity to absorb the life story of Ruth Shilsky McBride Jordan, mother of author James McBride and the topic of his best-selling book, The Color of Water. Written in 1996 the book chronicles the life of James’ mother and his story growing up as a biracial child of his Jewish mother and African-American father in New York.   Their life was not always an easy one, but their story is such a compelling story and I highly recommed everyone read it!

Mrs. Jordan passed away this past Saturday, January 9th, at her home in New Jersey; she was 88 years old.  She was born April 1, 1921 in Poland, moving to this country with her parents Fishel & Hudis Shilsky when she was a young girl.  Her birth name was Ruchel Zylska but her family changed their name soon after moving to the states.  They would settle in Suffolk, Virginia.

I read The Color of Water a little more than a year ago;  compelled to read it after my stepmother’s cousin emailed me explaining that he’d learned from a relative that he was related to James McBride. Together, we worked on trying to figure out the exact relationship and because of those efforts, I have some of the family tree in my genealogy database.  Ruth’s 1st husband, Andrew Dennis McBride (1907-1957) was from Montgomery County, North Carolina and turns out to be the 2nd cousin of my stepmother’s cousin.  I’ve blogged about the specifics of the relationship before.

Over the past two years, I’ve made connections with a few members of the McBride family and have been working on their family genealogy off and on over time.  Along with another distant cousin of theirs, we’ve made great progress in researching the McBride genealogy, back to a white man, Spratt McBride (b. abt. 1830), whom we think fathered Andrew’s apparent namesake &  grandfather Andrew McBride (1860-1925).  So much more remains to be done though and I hope we are able to help further as time goes on.  In particular, I’ve located the death record for Ruth’s mom Hudis thanks to a database from the Italian Genealogical Group and would like to order it one day.

My thoughts are with the family as they cope with the loss of their loved one.  Though I never knew her, I know that I am one of thousands out there who felt they did thanks to her son’s moving account of her life story.  Rest in peace Ruth.

mtDNA Testing in My Family’s Near Future?

This evening, as I was just finishing wrapping the final presents for the kids, I received an email about a distant cousin of mine.  I was contacted by a woman (we’ll call her Ms. C.) who is part of a project to identify remains of Korean War soldiers who died during the war.

Ms. C  contacted me in regards to my 2nd cousin, John Clinton Blount Jr. John Jr. was born in 1932 in Washington County, North Carolina to John Clinton Blount Sr. and wife, Alice V. McNair.  John was a member of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. He was listed as Missing in Action while fighting the enemy in North Korea on November 27, 1950. He was presumed dead on December 31, 1953.  His mom Alice McNair is part of my extended McNair family tree, the McNairs being my maternal grandmother’s family who, coincidentally enough is also named Alice).

When I received the email, I went back to my McNair family tree to look at John Jr.’s family structure.   I was hoping to reassess it for clues for how to proceed with doing more searching for his immediate family members since all I had was his name and the names of his siblings; nothing beyond that.

But then, as I looked at his mom Alice’s  record, I saw that her mom, Mary, was  Bullock by birth and I had a note in Mary Bullock McNair’s record that I suspected her to be the sister of my great-grandmother, Gracy Bullock McNair.  This would mean that John Jr. is a double cousin of mine.   And thus, if they were sisters, maybe there would be someone in the branch of the McNair family that I do know that may be a candidate for comparison testing.

Alas, I didn’t have enough documentation though that Gracy & Mary were sisters.  My research of census records and family information led me to believe that they both were the daughters of Lawrence & Chaney Bullock.   How could I determine for sure if the two ladies were sisters?  Well, I went back to Mary’s record and realized that though she died in 1950 in North Carolina I did not have her death certificate as a source.  So, off to Ancestry’s 1909-1975 NC death certificate database I went to look for it and found it within seconds.  Sure enough, her father is listed as Lawrence Bullock.

death certificate of Mary Bullock McNair

Now armed with this, I began to get really excited as this, combined with my other information, confirms for me that Gracy & Mary were indeed sisters.   So, I went back to the family tree and figured out who in our line would be of direct maternal descent who could have their mtDNA tested for comparison with remains (though, I’m not even absolutely sure right now that there are remains or if they want to have some on file in case there are remains found).

At first,  I guess I got overzealous for I thought I would qualify, but then realize that I descend from Gracy through her son, therefore, he would not have passed on anymore of her mtDNA.  But, she did have a daughter named Mary Della McNair, who had only one daughter, Gertrude.   Here is how Gertrude and John Jr. are related (this graph shows one relationship, through John’s father, but the Gracy & Mary shown as wives to the McNair men are the sisters I’m referring to)

Cousin Gertrude and my own grandmother were extremely close friends and my mother remains in constant contact with Cousin Gertrude and family.   I am going to hope that if Ms. C. is able to use mtDNA testing, that Gertrude’s daughter may agree to do it. Gertrude also has a granddaughter through one of her deceased daughters that may also agree to it.

Now, how did Ms. C find me?  I have my McNair family tree linked from the Washington County NCGenWeb pages and she found me that way.  Even though I am now the county coordinator for that site, I had my link added about three years ago.  Lesson learned? Share your data! You never know who it can lead to you.

Hmm… more to come as events warrant, but what an interesting thing to think about this Christmas Eve.