Monday, January 29, 2018

O Christmas Tree

I continue to get real trees for Christmas in honor of my father, Willis B. Williams, who always brought home the perfect tree.  Selecting a tree is now a tradition between me and my daughter.

Growing up I don't remember a time when we didn't have a Christmas tree -- and they were always taller than Daddy, who was 6-ft tall.  Sometimes we didn't have a tree until Christmas Eve when they were given out free at some places -- but Christmas was always a festive time in my family. My brothers and I helped my Mom decorate the tree and Daddy put up lights in the windows and decorated the outside of our house in Buffalo NY.

While we had a fireplace, mantel and chimney at our home, I don't remember waiting or looking out for Santa Claus. I do remember trying not to sleep so we could get to our presents at the first morning light and I do remember being told to go back to bed on occasion.  We did get presents labeled from Santa that were from our "grandparents",  Deety and Popoo. Those were the presents we opened first because they were always toys.

I love the smell of a real tree and the memories it brings.  I don't have heirloom ornaments. What I do have are these seven very special ornaments made by my daughter, Libby (Elizabeth), throughout her elementary years.  Each always get a prime spot on my tree.  As long as I'm able I'll continue getting real trees even though I sweep up pine needles well into spring --  because there's nothing like the smell and the memories!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Happy 85th birthday to Mommy: A Throwback Pictorial

My mommy, Evelyn Orthelia Brown Williams, is the daughter of Noah Brown and Lucy Washington of Mississippi.  She was born November 30, 1931 in Buffalo NY, the youngest of four siblings, that include Verlie, Arthur, and Vivian.

Although a city girl (born & bred) her favorite music is Country (1950s & 1960s) and her favorite hobby is gardening.  One of her special memories is visiting cousins in Ashtabula OH (which is basically the country).  I guess Mississippi roots run deep.

This is the earliest picture I have of Mommy.
Mommy at age 12 with her sister, Vivian Elizabeth Brown, age 14
So I asked why the long faces --  this was an Easter picture and they didn't like their outfits.

Fosdick Masten High School social club, circa late 1940s
Mommy seated, 2nd from left. Friends throughout adulthood (seated): Julia Bolden (left of Mommy), Bronite Blenman (right of Mommy) and Harriett Carlise (far right)

From a Buffalo NY newspaper when Mommy was part of a debutante ceremony.
This article is yellowing and unfortunately I don't know the newspaper.

With brother, Arthur Brown

Wedding picture, September 26, 1952.
She and Willis B. Williams were married in the home of her mother, Lucy Washington Brown

25th birthday party, 1956
Mommy told me that Daddy gave her this 25th birthday party

Birthday dinner at local restaurant, 1980s
Left to right: Daughter Sandra Ann,; Granddaughter Elizabeth Orthelia; Evelyn Orthelia; Husband Willis Burkette; Son Richard Lamonte (Flick)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When a name is not THE name

I don't remember ever meeting my Uncle Flipper. He was one of my Dad's older brothers.  He was born 6 Jun 1922 and made transition on  39 Sep 1969 when I was sixteen.  His first appearance on a census record was the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. When the 1940 census records were released by the US National Archives on April 2, 2012, I was happy to see 17-year-old Flipper Burkette still in the household with his mother, Florence Burkette and his six siblings -- Joseph, Louis, Janice, Christine, Willis, Joan.

His given name is twice listed on the census records as Flipper.  In addition to "knowing" his name, there was a picture of Uncle Flipper in uniform among family pictures displayed throughout my parents home.

So finding Uncle Flipper in military records should be a breeze  --  I had his name, date of birth, place of birth, and where he lived.

Nothing in family history research is a breeze and I became a crazed woman trying to find his military records -- but at the time I was a rookie researcher. I found no Flipper Burkette or any variant of that name listed in military records.

When I asked my Dad, if Uncle Flipper had another name, he thought for awhile and said no, his name was Flipper.  Maybe that was his middle name, I prodded.  No . . .

When my Dad made transition in 2011, I came upon the only other picture I have seen of Uncle Flipper. This one was taken in France and he signed it "Flipper".  By now I was more knowledgeable about searching for ancestors and I also knew that the name a person was known by was not necessarily their given name.
Inscription on front: "Forever Yours . . . Flipper"
(on back) Marseille, France -- March 10, 1945

So I began searching for his military records again, eliminating the given name field.  I searched the surname Burkette and Burkett (which is listed both ways in the census) serving in the Army during World War II.  Lo and behold! There was Alexander Burkette with the same birth date listed in the census, from Detroit Michigan.

Well with the possibility of the right name I did find reference to Uncle Flipper's service records.  He served in the U.S. Army during World War II from 16 Jun 1943 to 4 Feb 1946  -  the dates coincide to the date on his picture. Studying the picture again, there IT was in the inscription: "Forever Yours Al (Flipper)". " Al" wasn't an abbreviation for Always, it was an abbreviation for Alexander!

With his correct name, I have been able to find his marriage record to Carrie Ward on 13 Oct 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. I also found his death record in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 as well as the U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014.

Lesson learned:  When a name is not the name, 

  • Question
  • Don't overlook clues
  • Use a variety of search techniques

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's My Turn, Presenting a Genealogy Webinar

On April 21, 2016 I presented my first genealogy webinar --  an introductory session on family history research as part of a webinar series sponsored by the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS).  I've attended in plenty of genealogy webinars but being on the other side and presenting had me a tad anxious. However once I got into my presentation, time seemed to fly!

While the registration cut-off for the webinar was 50 people, 53 attended. I thoroughly enjoyed both the preparation and presentation. Preparing for this workshop forced me to look at my research in a critical way. It also challenged me to take a hard look at what I knew about genealogy research.

I stressed starting with self, speaking to elders, DOCUMENTATION, and taking it one step at a time. It seems that the webinar sparked interest for some and re-awakened interest for others -- and I've been asked to do a workshop at the NABS Festival and Conference in Philadelphia in November.   YAAAY!

Comments (emails sent directly to me)

"BRAVO! You delivered a stellar presentation tonight. It was simple, clear, and chock full o' goodies. I learned a lot! Thank you!"  -ka*:x lovestruck

"Thank you! Very good information to get a novice started.  I really appreciated the visuals.  
Hats off to the Education Committee, Sister Sandra, Tahira and the NABS Board that just keeps moving us higher and higher."

Thanks NABS… Thanks Sandra Williams Bush!  Just got the results back 2 days ago from my DNA sample from…  This was very timely :-)"

Thank you for providing this excellent webinar!

Survey for Discovering Your Ancestors (anonymous survey to webinar Organizer)
Presenter: Sandra Williams Bush
Please share comments on the effectiveness of Presenter, Sandra Williams Bush.

Excellent! Sandra spoke slowly and clearly and gave good information. I appreciated the resources she gave.


Stellar presentation….clear….organized…..interesting….
I cannot begin to express how well Sandra moved this discussion along with professionalism and concise, clear explanations of every aspect of the material she shared. The flow was just perfect so that it was easy to digest all that was imparted. She punctuated her information with in depth explanations and rich resources. Interest was maintained throughout and the topic was thoroughly covered. One is ready to begin!!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Head-spinning DNA

As I watched the webinar "Watch Geoff Live - DNA", a Legacy Family Tree Webinar, it finally dawned on me how important it is to have a public family tree. I have defended my private Ancestry tree because not only did someone cherry-pick my ancestors but when I sent her a welcome family message she was very nasty in shooting me down. Anyway, I was prompted to listen to the webinar from a Facebook post on a genealogy group. In another Facebook genealogy group a member posted on how she made cousin connections through her public tree and several of the comments to her post spoke about the need to have a public tree so DNA cousins can connect. 

Geoff Rasmussen, a regular presenter and moderator for the Family Tree webinars, looked at his grandmother's DNA results for the first time in a live webinar while Diahan Southland guided him through the results -- what things meant and how to interpret / evaluate family connections. Ms. Southland is a DNA expert and webinar presenter. Through each step of the presentation, Geoff's enthusiasm and awe was contagious!

So the ancestors have spoken (these instances are not a coincidence) and I started a bare bone family tree with names, dates, and locations. I stress that I have started because I became distracted by a "bright shiny object" --  Kitty Cooper's Blog which was also mentioned in the comments on the one Facebook group post. Kitty's blog posts are clear and concise  --  just what a newbie like me needs to get a handle on DNA.

Through the years I've so many complicated graphics about how DNA is passed down that I only get more confused.  So I used the term "DNA genealogy" in Google images to find a visual that would help me. The two images below spoke to me about how DNA is passed down through the generations.

Now back to my bare bones tree . . .



Friday, April 22, 2016

Starting With Me

Sandra Ann Williams , born 1953, in the crib my father hand-made.

Most books, articles, workshops, etc. on genealogy state that research starts with yourself but it never dawned on me to do my own biography until recently.

I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Willis B. and Evelyn O. Williams. Under their strong love, guidance and support, I was instilled with the importance of family, loyalty and community.

My earliest memories are of growing up at 218 Walnut Street in Buffalo and attending P.S. 47.  Months before my sixth grade graduation, my family moved to 523 Woodlawn Avenue in Buffalo's "Cold Spring" area. I remember my brothers and I thinking that we were rich because it was a beautifully tree-lined neighborhood with large well-kept homes. My brothers, Richard, Steven, Barry, and Raymond were transferred to the new neighborhood school, P.S. #53.  For the few months until my sixth grade graduation, I stayed in the old neighborhood living with my great-aunt, Elizabeth Mason aka Auntie Lizzie during the school week and going home for the weekends.

In September 1965 I attended the neighborhood school Woodlawn Jr. High (from 7th through 9th grades), and later East High School (1968-1971).  After a few false attempts at college -- Howard University {I attended Howard because it was my mother's dream to go there}, Villa Maria College, and Buffalo State College -- I finally earned an undergraduate degree from Medialle College in Human Services (1981). 

Not finding a job in my field, I worked a variety of jobs before taking a county clerical exam and being offered a job at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library where I worked at many of the city branches, including the mobile units, the RAM Van and Lookie Bookie. While at the library, I attended evening classes at the University of Buffalo School of Information Library Science and earned a Master of Library Science degree (1991).

My biggest joy has been my daughter, Elizabeth --  her birth, raising her, seeing the woman she has become and sharing travel experiences with her. (At her request I never mention her age or birth year and seldom full name on social media.)

I met my husband, Joseph Bush, in 1986 while we were working at the Central Library. We married and honeymooned in Niagara Falls NY on January 6, 1996.  I retired from the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library in August 2015 after 30 years of service. My last position was Branch Manager of the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library.

Since 1995, I have performed as a solo artist and as a charter member of Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York.  In addition to storytelling, I am a djembe drummer with the group Daughters of Creative Sound (since 2004), an African American women's percussion ensemble. 

I am currently ENJOYING retirement!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

30 Years & Out

from The Challenger, August 5, 2015, Front Page
Well, I'm looking at my draft posts  --  I started this one in August 2015. In the spirit of starting my genealogy journey with me and telling my own story, I finally finished (I think) this post.

After 30 years with the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, it was time to end our relationship.  As with any relationship when it's time, it's time --  and it's never good to prolong the inevitable.  I had a great career that started as a Clerk with the system on August 19, 1985 and I was fortunate to have may good working relationships with colleagues. I also met some great library patrons along the way.

"Get me my flowers while I can yet smell them" is the refrain of many elders in the African American community -- meaning don't wait to celebrate me when I'm dead, do it now so I can see/feel your appreciation for me.

I didn't want a retirement party or any special recognition, but the community spoke and there was a reception given for me at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library on my last last of employment -- August 21, 2015.  Big thanks go out to former supervisor (retired) and friend, Sharon Jordan Holley, for organizing the reception.

Yvonne M. Harris told her signature story,
"A Perfect Heart"
and presented me with custom-made heart
"Big Momma Boo, storyteller

Proclamation from the NYS Senate presented by
Senator Timothy M. Kennedy, 63rd Senate District
I usually have to sneak pictures of my daughter,
Elizabeth O. Bonds, who doesn't like her picture taken
(in pink top)

With my husband, Joseph Bush

With Kim Johnson, former
Library Page and one of the
first employees I supervised

With Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski, Sharon Holley

With Yvonne M. Harris, County Legislator Betty Jean Grant
and Sharon Holley

With co-workers Lisa Perry and Fred Stancil

At the podium is Mr. William A. Miles,  Retired Assistant Library Director who hired me as a Clerk 30 years ago.

I was also presented with Proclamations from New York State Assembly, Honorable Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, 141st District; City of Buffalo Common Council, Council President Darius G. Pridgen, and given a copy of the Congressional Record Proceedings and Debates of the 114th Congress, First Session which was read into the Congressional record by Honorable Brian Higgins on August 19, 2015.

But by far, the best part of the day was the fellowship and good wishes of family, friends, co-workers, and the library community!