Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Death announcement for my paternal great grandmother from the local African American newspaper, the Buffalo Criterion.

      Mrs. Mary Button of 209 Walnut Street, died May 23, 1955 following about a year of illness.

       Mrs. Button was born in Macon, Ga. in 1867, the daughter of the late Acey and Henrietta Carrington.  She was married in 1888 to Henry Button and was the mother of 11 children. 

     In 1917, she and the family moved to Detroit, where she became a member of Bethel AME Church, and was ordained a deaconess in 1928 by Bishop J. A. Gregg.  She came to live with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Davenport in 1951 and became a devoted member of St. Paul AMEZ Church where she was a deaconess and was active until her illness in 1954.

     Funeral services were held at theWardner H. Jones funeral Home Thursday at 1 pm and the body was shipped to Detroit where services were held Saturday.

     Surviving are two daughters, Mrs. Anna Davenport, of buffalo, and Mrs. Elizabeth Bynum of Detroit; 9 grandchildren, and 18 great grandchildren.

Buffalo Criterion, 1955-05-28

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mourning my great grandmother

My paternal great grandmother, Mary Clay Button, was 80 years old when she made transition.  Growing up and  for the longest time into my adulthood, I just thought of her dying as a result of just being old.  While I have had her death certificate for a little over a year and poured over every line, I never had her cause of death deciphered.  This weekend I had that opportunity when the Buffalo Genealogical Society of the African Diaspora had a workshop on Causes of Death from Death Certificates.  When I presented my great grandmother's death certificate, I was told that she died from breast cancer that had spread throughout her body.  For some reason, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I went into mourning.

The local African American newspaper, the Buffalo Criterion, had an article on her passing with the the first paragraph stating that she was ill for a year.  --  but no mention of cancer.  No one in the family ever mentioned cancer when they spoke of her.  But that's how it was at that time  --  cancer was almost thought of as a plague and not spoken of.  Her transition year was 1955, two years after I was born so I didn't get to know her but I've been told that she loved me.  She would bounce me on her knees and had a chant, "Jump, jump, jump, jump, jump.  You ain't jumped none today."

I jump in your honor & smile.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Goin' hard -- thanks to Luckie

Never thought I'd be a blogger but thankfully my ancestors got together with the ancestors of Luckie Daniels and they all guided me to the Facebook group African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research.  There I virtually met a seriously dedicated group of genealogy researchers.  But above all I encountered Luckie, the Principal, who held all in the group to a higher standard.  We may have done research on our families with piles of books, papers, & stories to prove it, but what good will all that work do (she prodded) when only the researcher can access the information.  Luckie challenges all in the group to embrace technology in a way that others can see & access our work  --  now and for future generations.

So I'm a baby blogger & quite proud of my progress so far,    As long as I have "a reasonable portion of my health & strength", I intend to put forth my ancestors so others may know that they were here   --  by utilizing technology.  Thanks, Luckie!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

23andMe DNA composition

My "new & improved" DNA breakdown from 23andMe. 

From the time I could walk down to the library by myself, I was always finding treasures that transported me to other places and other times.  Through books, I met some fascinating people.  When I was in junior high school I read about Joseph Cinque, an African who had been taken from the area of Sierra Leone.  Cinque led a mutiny while being transported to the Americas and he was never enslaved.  The case against him for mutiny and murder actually made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  For some reason I felt I strong kinship with him and I was convinced that we were related  --  or even knew each other in a previous life.  

I tell this story because I am so happy to see the West African connection with ties to Sierra Leone.  The ancestors are calling my name.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

DNA & adoption

So I mentioned in my last post that I felt a certain obligation to find the connection between my family and the DNA cousin who contacted me who is adopted & looking for his biological family.  I get to work today and there is an email on a librarian genealogy listserv where a colleague is requesting advice & information on conducting a genealogy class for adoptees.  Coincidence . . . I think not.

In a response someone suggested the book  Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA by Richard Hill (which has great reviews  --  can't wait to read it!) and looking at blogs like Adoption and DNA
Cover Art
"Richard Hill's true and intensely personal story of how he pieced together the long-kept secret of his own origins. This highly suspenseful book is a page-turning saga of personal detective work that will appeal to anyone who loves a good mystery. But this isn't fiction. It's an engrossing account of an adoptee trying to reclaim the biological family denied him by sealed birth records. This fascinating quest, including the author's landmark use of DNA testing, takes readers on an exhilarating roller-coaster ride and concludes with a twist that rivals anything Hollywood has to offer."--back cover.

Monday, December 2, 2013

DNA cousins reaching out

It's a DNA cousin explosion!  I kind of gave up on the requests that I've sent out to DNA cousins that have no response.  Now in the space of weeks, I have four share requests  --  two from Ancestry and two from 23andMe.  Two of the requests (one from each site) have strong Caribbean roots.  I vaguely remember whispers that we have family in "the islands" on my paternal side.  Here's one message that floors me because he can trace his family from the 1830s and I'm, just up to the 1870s as far as documentation.

"We appear to be related according to our DNA results and I was curious to know the connection.
My family has been based Jamaica since the 1830s.
Do you have any clues as to our family connections?
Kind regards

I also have communication from a DNA cousin, who was put up for adoption at birth, with a very interesting story.  He's trying to find his biological connections.  Our connection seems to be maternal because his biological parents are from Ohio where I know many of my maternal family went to from Mississippi  --  but time & research will tell.  I am drawn to this request & almost feel obligated to find out if we are related so I can give him the sense of family that I always had.

At any rate, now I have to seriously step up my game to understand DNA connections.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving treat -- DNA cousin

I'm so excited!  I received a request on Ancestry from a DNA cousin that we connect to share our family trees to see how we are related.  Since AncestryDNA uses an autosomal DNA test that covers both the maternal and paternal sides of the family tree, there's no telling how we'll be related.  Her message below:

"Hello Sansan325, My name is Patrice Whitfield. I am the niece of Raymond Williams, he recently has taken a DNA test through ancestry and you come up as a fifth cousin of his. We are very excited to find our family through this process in retracing our family tree. I am hoping, if you are willing that we could share in this process to find out where we match up. Thanking you very kindly in advance.
Patrice Whitfield"

Of course I responded right away:  "Hello Patrice, Thanks so much for contacting me. I would love to see how we are related. Would you be willing to share you family tree with me? Can you see my tree? I am more than willing to collaborate with you to find our common ancestor. Looking forward to hearing from you.

That led to her response: "Hi Sandra, Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope your holiday was wonderful. I appreciate you responding back and I would love to share our family trees to see where our families match. Right now, I am unable to see your profile because my uncle just has an account, but I am a member. But he is so excited over this. We will be able to link up soon. Would you be able to see my family tree. How would we do this? Looking forward hearing from you.

So I sent her back instructions on how we can share our trees (per Get Help section) and now I'm anxiously waiting the chance to see her and Uncle Raymond's tree that is currently set as private.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Documenting Granny (Lucy Washington Brown)

I know Granny existed because she was a part of my life  --  but that doesn't matter in genealogy research.  As a genealogist/family historian I was so excited to find various records to offer proof to others that, yes, Lucy Washington Brown was here.  In this post I supplied a few of the documents that I have found.

Granny (Lucy Washington Brown) first appeared on the 1910 United States Federal Census in Mississippi, Holmes County, Beat 1, District 0039.

Although Granny and her siblings were born in Mississippi, her parents were born in Georgia.  At age 5, Granny lived with her parents, Peter and Mary; sister Estella (age 12); brothers Ned (age 9) and Gilbert (age 7); and paternal grandfather Ned and grandmother Darkis (spelling?)

Below is the marriage license of Lucy Washington and Noah Brown who were married April 10, 1924 in Erie, Pennsylvania..  My daughter and I made a day trip to Erie  for this copy.  I was so excited to get this  --  so excited that it took me awhile to realize that Granny's mother's name was wrong.   My great-grandmother is listed with the maiden name of "Baird" when her maiden name was "Barrett".
Reverse side  "Consent of Marriage of Child or Ward" signed by Harold P. Dundon as Guardian and also signed by Florence L. Weber, Asst Clerk of the Orphans Court.  Mr. Dundon resided in Erie PA (probably an employee for the department/court)

Granny was 19 years old and Mr. Brown (my biological grandfather) was 21 years old.

Here is a copy of Granny's social security application in her handwriting. Her mother's maiden name is listed as Barrett.  I figure Granny should know but my job is to prove Mary Barrett existed and was the wife of Peter Washington; mother to Lucy Washington.
The Town Club, 805 Delaware, Buffalo NY where Granny was employed when she applied for a social security card.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Honoring Granny

I grew up knowing one grandparent  --  my maternal grandmother, Lucy Washington Brown.  Granny was born November 1, 1904 in Lexington, Holmes County, Mississippi.  Unfortunately she never spoke about her growing up years and she never took her children to Mississippi, so I have no "down home" stories to draw from.

As an inquisitive teen I would ask my mother, Evelyn Brown Williams (aka Mommy), about Granny but as the youngest child my mother wasn't told much  --  I've told her more than she ever knew as I make strides with my genealogy searches.

But Mommy did know that Granny got married in Erie, Pennsylvania  --  about five years ago my daughter and I took a day trip to Erie for Granny's marriage license. So much information!  But the big question for me is why did Granny and her husband, Noah Brown, come from Mississippi to Ashtabula,Ohio but got married in Erie PA and end up in Buffalo, New York?

Granny was beautiful  --  both physically and spiritually.  I remember her long silky, unprocessed white hair and her soft, even brown complexion that was dotted with freckles on her high cheekbones.  She always smelled just clean  --  the only products she used was Ivory soap and Ponds cream, no perfumes or sprays; no make-up.  Wonderfully clean & fresh & simply beautiful!

Granny had a way of asking who I was dating and when was I going to get married (no pressure but after all that's the circle of life).   I got married January 6, 1996 at the age of 42.  Granny made transition on April 10, 1996.  I cannot remember anything that happened in my life for the rest of that year.  There have been times that I've wondered since then, if I didn't get married would Granny have lived longer.  Crazy, I know.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

National Association of Black Storytellers Festival & Conference, Hampton VA -- The Workshops

Although this was a storytelling event, three of the workshops I attended spoke to the genealogist in me: 

 "Walking and Talking with the Ancestors" presented by Ilene Evans   
          Storytellers often tell the stories of historical figures --  Ilene spoke to our obligation to do the research!  Just as in genealogy, we must verify our sources.  We should also stay true to the person we are telling the story about and make sure that our stories make sense in historical context.

"Native Americans & African Americans" presented by Linda Cousins-Newton
          Oh the history I learned!  Linda certainly knows her stuff  --  the workshop started a little late because she couldn't find her notes but when she did, she never referred to them.  She has clearly walked in the shoes of those she has researched.  Her concentration is on the Seminoles in the American South/Southwest and the Bahamas.

 "Blog, Vlog, Tweet, Pin & Storify the Culture" presented by Jos Duncan
          Jos stressed that African Americans need to make our presence known on social media to tell our own stories and to education/guide our youth.  Social media is another venue to build our cultural community.  Not only do we need to tell our stories, we also need to put up positive images of ourselves.  As a librarian I wholeheartedly agree with her; too often I have helped patrons that have "goggled" terms like "African American women". "African American family", etc and the results are stereotypical and/or offensive.  We need to flood social media with our positive stories and images!  To that end I started this blog thanks to the encouragement of Luckie Daniels and the African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research facebook page.

Next year (November 2014) NABS will be held in Chicago & I will definitely be there!

Monday, November 11, 2013

National Association of Black Storytellers Festival & Conference, Hampton VA -- The Tour

From November 6 -10, 2013 I attended the 31st annual National Association of Black Storytellers Festival & Convention in Hampton, Virginia.  On Wednesday (11/6) before the festival officially began, there was a tour that highlighted some of the Black history sites in Hampton.   We had a libation ceremony at the site that is considered to be where the first Africans came into America. 

We moved on to the Hampton Museum & Visitors Center and saw a special exhibit, entitled "Toward Freedom: Hampton and the Contraband Exhibit".  The most powerful statement the curator made was that he put together the exhibit to show the human side of enslaved people because too often the enslaved are grouped together as "slaves" with no indication that they are individuals with names, families, and lives (Mike Cobb, curator).  It was very emotional looking upon the faces of the nameless men, women, and children and hearing the "contraband" story.  Escaped enslaved individuals and families made their way to the Hampton area and in some strange, acceptable way they were declared "contraband"  --  not enslaved but not quite free and allowed to stay in the area.  The exhibit includes photographs, artifacts, documents and audio-visual presentations.  Our time there was much too short for me.
At the last stop before dinner we learned that Hampton Institute had an "Indian Program" in the late 19th century with the purpose to "civilize and educate" American Indians.  There were over 1,000 students in the program that came from various Indian nations in the Midwest (not quite sure if they came voluntarily).  The program  ended in the 1920s.  Below are markers of those who died while at Hampton Institute.

At each of these sites I wanted to tarry and commune with the ancestors.  Very spiritual . . .



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dad's family identified in picture

I posted my Dad's picture on Facebook yesterday (yesterday's blog also) and now I have names to everyone in the picture  -- Uncle Joseph Burkette, Great-grandmother Mary Button, Uncle Louis Burkette, Uncle Flipper Burkette, Aunt Christia Burkette "Aunt Peaches" and my Dad.

I also had very positive responses to my mother's class picture  --  one of the women in the picture, Julia Bush,  is a FB friend and she was so happy to share the picture with her family.

Yes, social media can be a wonderful thing!

On top of that, today my Mom gave me two suitcases of miscellaneous pictures to go through.  I'm going to have a scanning good time (in my James Brown "Gonna have a funky good time" voice)!

Dad & Mom once upon a time

Yesterday while at my Mom's the ancestors tapped & poked & led me to a box of photos.  While I was going through them my youngest brother came through and I pulled out some, playing the "remember this" game.  Some pictures provided memories of an event, some were memories of the picture or a reflection of a family member who is now an ancestor.

I am becoming a blogger to document my ancestors journey as I answer / recognize their pokes, prods and revelations.

I don't remember ever seeing this picture before.  My Dad, Willis B. Williams, is in uniform with his sister, Christina Burkette aka Aunt Peaches.  From other pictures I've seen I believe the two men behind my Dad are his brothers and the older woman is their grandmother.  At his point in his life my Dad lived in Buffalo NY but he was from Detroit MI, so I'm guessing he was on leave in Detroit.

My mother, Evelyn O. Brown (2nd from left, seated) in a school club photo from Frosdick Masten High School, Buffalo NY.  She has maintained friendships with Julia Bush (Bolden), (1st left, seated), Brontie Blenman (center seated) and Harriet (far right, seated.)

I have always loved this picture; in it I see innocence, hope for the future, and friendship.