Wednesday, November 14, 2018

African American Veterans Monument WNY

On November 9, 2018, I attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the African American Veterans Monument.  The memorial will be built in the Buffalo & Erie County Navel and Military Park with construction scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019.   It will be a tribute to all African American veterans who served in all military branches from the Revolutionary War to the present.  The monument will hold the distinction of being the first of its kind in the United States.

When the call went out to the community for opportunities to purchase an engraved commemorative brick in the memory of a loved one, I considered it an honor to be able to make two purchases.  One for my father, PFC Willis B. Williams (1929-2011), who served during the Korean Conflict.  The other for my uncle, Sargent Arthur Brown (1927-1986), who served during WWII. 

Renditions of the planned African American Veterans Memorial in Buffalo NY

Monday, November 12, 2018

My NABS (National Association of Black Storytellers) Addiction -- The Voice of Black Storytelling

I caught the NABS bug in 2004 and since that time I have almost consistently attended the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference.  In 2011 my daughter started going with me and with the exception of 2017 in Wichita, she's attended every year since her first Festival.  In addition to hearing some good storytelling, we take the opportunity to do a personal tour of whatever city the Festival is being held, focusing on Black history sites.

NABS is the old-fashioned church camp meeting and family reunion rolled into one. Storytellers and attendees travel from all over the country (even beyond) and each year the Festival is held in a different location.  Workshops and storytelling feed attendees/participants in universal, deep-rooted ways with presentations ranging from personal stories to historical stories to Brer animal stories to Anansi stories to everything in-between.

Mother Mary Carter Smith and Mama Linda Goss co-founded the Association of Black Storytellers in November 1984 to share, recognize and preserve the African and African American Oral Tradition.  The Association was incorporated in 1990 and became known as the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS). The festival is now known as the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference. (from the NABS website

NABS is the Authentic Voice of Black Storytelling.

After years of attending the NABS Festival, I accepted the call to serve as Board member and National Secretary.  The love of NABS inspired me to serve.

November 2014 induction ceremony during the Membership Meeting at the 32nd annual Festival held in Chicago, Illinois.  My term as the national secretary began on January 1, 2015.  

Esteemed storyteller and Elder Baba Jamal Koram swearing in new NABS Board members Janice Curtis Greene, Gwen Hilary, Steven Hobbs and Sandra Williams Bush
Making a statement on why I accepted Board position

Presentation of the Gold Life Membership plaque by NABS 15th President Saundra Gilliard, November 2018.  My love for NABS inspired me to financially"put up or shut up"

The last time my name tag will reflect my position as NABS Board member and Secretary, November 2018

With Executive Director Vanora Legaux and President-elect Janice Curtis Greene (Board members) at the 36th annual NABS Festival in Cary NC, November 2018

Souvenir book covers reflect the NABS Festivals that I have attended to date.

22nd - 2004 New Orleans
23rd - 2005 Tampa FL
25th --2007 Atlanta
27th - 2009 Little Rock AR
28th - 2010 Minneapolis

29th - 2011 Atlanta
30th - 2012 Baltimore
31st --  2013 Hampton VA

32nd --  2014 Chicago

32nd --  2015 Washington DC
34th --  2016 Philadelphia
35th --  2017 Wichita 

2018 Festcover smaller
36th - 2018 Cary NC

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 . . .