Monday, November 14, 2016

The Fish Are Biting!

In genealogy circles, family history blogs are sometimes known as "cousin bait." It's a term I'm not necessarily in love with, because I think of my blog first and foremost as a way to *share* information, not solicit it, but even I have to admit, there's truth in the idea! Heck, I want people to reach out to me when they have information or stories I'm missing! I want this blog to allow me to connect with folks, whether they're family or they just love genealogy and history.

Well guess what? That's exactly what's happened recently!

About two weeks ago, I received a message connecting me with a young man - a high school student - who is descended from another branch of my Whaley line! With the help of one of his teachers, he's recently begun researching his family history, and lo-and-behold, they came across my "Time Traveling Along the Whaley Family Tree" post! If their research - and mine - is correct, his 3x Great-Grandfather is my 2x Great-Grandfather. That man, Kit Whaley, married (at least) twice, and we are each descended from his relationship with a different spouse.

I won't be sharing this young man's information online, for obvious reasons, but I have invited him to write a personal message to be shared here on the blog so he can say hello to my branch of the Whaleys. We'll see what happens from there!

Then, on the other side of my family, I actually received a message right here on the blog from a National Park Service employee, in regard to my Grandfather's time in the Civilian Conservation Corps. The camp at which he served  in the early 1940s was later turned into an NPS site and they are currently researching the history of the two all-black camps that were located there. While I don't have much information on my Granddad's service, I certainly hope I can be of help to them - the stories of the CCC camp workers deserve to be researched and told! And if I'm lucky, they'll have lots of info that I don't, info that will provide context to help us better understand my Grandfather's experiences there. How exciting would that be?!

So, score one for my blog as "bait," lol!

P.S. Yes, it's been mighty quiet around here. I've recently started a new job, so a lot of my brainpower is being used up learning a new body of knowledge for work. But I haven't abandoned my research, and I'll be posting as I can.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Time Traveling Along the Whaley Family Tree

Well, you know the first thing I did after visiting with my paternal grandfather was spend a few days researching my Whaley family roots. I'm actually surprised by how far back I was able to go in such a short amount of time! Armed with his memories, birth certificates that connect me to his dad (my great-grandfather), and the census and vital records available on and, I have a pretty credible chain that takes me back to a man named Joe Whaley, who was born about 1823! This makes him - my 3x Great-Grandfather - one of the earliest relatives on my family tree!

Here's a quick and dirty climb up the family tree, starting with my Great-Grandfather, Morris Lee Whaley. (Note: Because my grandfather is still alive, I'm not posting his personal information here. This is my general rule on this blog, for privacy's sake.)

This is the 1920 Census for Morris, living in Baker County, Georgia. He's barely a teenager - 13 years old - and living with his parents, my 2x Great-Grandparents, Kit and Grace Whaley:

He can also be found in Kit and Grace's household in 1910, though his name is written as "Moise," "Maise" or something similar. Given his age and the presence of siblings he would be close to, and even follow out of state, once they set off as adults, I have little doubt that this is him. His death certificate also gives Kit and Grace as his parents.

So, let's jump back a generation. And this is a 40-year jump. Here's Kit Whaley (sometimes listed as Kip or Kib. Or Kirt or Kitt, because, well, you know how it is!). It's 1880 and he's 23 years old, helping out his parents Joe and Sue Whaley as a farm laborer. And if Kit's age here is correct (other documents suggest it is), he was born about 1856, making him a pre-Civil War ancestor. He - and his parents and older siblings - were probably born enslaved.

1880 Census, Baker County, Georgia

Now let's take a smaller jump back in time, to the earliest census record I have for the Whaleys: 1870. It's definitely the earliest one I have for Joe and Sue, my 3x Great-Grandparents. And it's probably also the earliest for my 2x Great-grandfather, Kit. But if you look closely, you'll see why I say "probably".

1870 Census, Baker County, Georgia

Yeah, instead of a male Kit, there's a female Kittie listed. (Oh Census gods, why do you do this to me??) The age is right. I guess it's possible that Kit had a twin sister, though there's no other evidence of that anywhere (although if you look again at 1880, you'll see there does appear to be a set of twins). More likely, the census taker simply got his or her info wrong, or perhaps the family was hesitant to provide information about their oldest son residing in the house at a time when tensions in the country were still running high. (1870 is during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. It was a time of great promise for African Americans, but also great hostility towards them, especially in the South.)

A few other things to note:
  • As with Morris' connection to Kit, Kit's death certificate is an additional piece of evidence naming Joe Whaley as his father.

  • If you look at the 1870 Census, you'll see that Joe, Sue and their older children are listed as having been born in South Carolina. While this isn't repeated on most other records I've found to date, the 1910 Census does list Kit and his mother as being born in SC. It's a possibility I'll have to explore. 

  • Looking at the ages of Joe and Sue's children, some were born during slavery and others after. Assuming Sue was enslaved, can you imagine, bringing free children into the world after having born children during slavery?

  • As with other branches of my family - and so many other African American families as well - it seems the Whaley story is one of moving north for a chance at a better, safer future. As my grandfather tells it, when his father Morris was a young man, the family actively worked to get its young men out of the south. Racial violence was heating up - including lynchings - and they wanted their sons out of such clear danger. Between 1920 and 1924, two of Morris' brothers had moved to Steubenville, Ohio, and Morris himself arrived by 1930. My grandfather says as each family member moved north, they worked to pave the way for someone else to join them. By 1934 at least one sister had it to Ohio, and by 1940, two more of Morris' brothers had joined them, meaning at least 6 Whaley siblings made the move north from Georgia in a little over a decade.

Obviously there's a lot more to learn about my Whaley ancestors. And I haven't even touched on my grandfather's mother's family yet! We'll see what else I find; as usual, stay tuned for more documents, and hopefully the stories behind them!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Midwestern Snaps and Surnames

Chicago, the final stop of my Midwestern trip

I'm just settling in back home after a pretty interesting (and at times super fun) week-long trip to the Midwest. I hung out with my grandmother in Ohio and got to show her a few yearbook pictures of her and her siblings that she hadn't seen in years (score one for the internet!). Then my aunt and I went on a mini-road trip to West Virginia for the main purpose of my trip: interviewing her father, my grandfather, about his family history. And finally, I swung past Chicago for a great few days of catching up with a college friend, meeting her husband for the first time (I was at the wedding, but he was a *bit* busy), and loving up on their adorable baby girl. It was a good trip! Here are a few snaps and notes:

This is my great-uncle Ray West pictured as a first grader in Yorkville, Ohio! 
He is one of four siblings pictured in the 1954 Ductillite, Yorkville High School's yearbook. 
(Second row, far right, look for the chocolatey male.) 
Adorable, right? U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

The hills of West Virginia, viewed from my paternal grandfather's home.
The Ohio River Valley, on both sides of the river, has been home to many members of my paternal family in recent generations.

My aunt, my grandfather and I took an "usie"to commemorate the trip.
This was our first meeting in over 20 years. But now that we're talking family history, we'll be keeping in touch. From him, I now know the names of my paternal great-grandparents, their other children, and assorted aunts and uncles, and know I need to be searching Georgia and Virginia for more info. Among other surnames, I'll be researching Whaley (of course), and Littlejohn. 

Oak Street Beach, on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago.  
It may be blasphemy to even say the word Michigan when your family loves Ohio State, but I gotta tell ya, after a few days of planes, trains and automobiles, plus family history research, sitting on that beach with the warm sun on my skin, the sound of the waves breaking at the shoreline, a good magazine in my lap and a good friend by my side was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Now that the ball is rolling on my Whaley family research, stay tuned for more posts as I dig in! But with this plus Operation DC, and whatever lucky hits I get on my Evans and Harris families in Alabama and my Coopers in Georgia, I've got a lot on my research plate. Throw in one last international trip before my Year Off is over and an impending job search, and I've got a lot on my life plate, though, so please be patient with me!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Notes From the Ether: Life and Research Updates

I know it's been a little quiet (ok, very!) over here in KINterested land, so I'm here with a few updates.

A little over a year ago - September 2015 - I posted a list of genealogical hopes for my Year Off. Here we are, at the beginning of August 2016, and my Year Off is almost over. In fact, that's part of why I've been so quiet - with my time away from work running out, I've both been contemplating ideas for a final trip abroad and also beginning to think about job options and career possibilities.

For the first, I've finally decided to spend about 3 and a half weeks in Europe again, but this time exploring Denmark and The Netherlands. You'll find me writing about that over at my other blog, A Runs Away, beginning in late August.

As for the second, museum education remains one of my loves and I'm excited to dive back into catching up on what's happening in the field. But I'm remaining open to other possibilities that might be a good fit for my love of history, my organizational, research and leadership skills (wrenches arm out of socket patting self on back), and, frankly, my desire for that elusive thing called work-life balance. (Stop laughing - unicorns might not exist, but narwhals do! Which is to say, the perfect might not be possible, but surely I can get close!)

And as for my Genealogical To Do list from September, I've knocked quite a bit off the list. I've been digitizing my Grandma Doris' photo albums (s-l-o-w-l-y), I've been down to DC for 2 research trips, I've posted quite a few stories and mysteries here on KINterested, I've done a bit of long-distance Ohio research, I've reviewed some of my old research to search for mistakes and new research avenues, and I've researched in New Jersey and Alabama, and attended a family reunion in Georgia. I also attended the National Genealogical Society's Annual Family History Conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

And, as I type this, I'm sitting at the airport, heading out to Ohio, where I'll be traveling with my Aunt to West Virginia to visit my paternal Grandfather, someone I have never met as an adult, and met perhaps once as a child. This was a key part of my To Do list and I am finally making it happen.

I can't promise I'll post during this trip or immediately after, but I will follow-up. I'm looking forward to an interesting experience! Stay tuned...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cooper-Cummings 2016 Family Reunion in Photos

My first cousin once removed (aka, my mom's first cousin) and several generations of his family. Courtesy of L. Whaley.

This time last week, I was in a car somewhere between North Carolina and Philly, on my way home from the Cooper-Cummings Family Reunion in Augusta, Georgia. (Why North Carolina, then? It's a long drive - we did it in two days. We're not road warriors, lol!)

I have to say, I love going to family reunions, and I am especially impressed by how committed my mom's maternal family is to making this one happen.  

  • Example 1: My grandparents, Louis and Elnora (Cooper) Shepherd, had 5 children. All of them came, driving from Texas, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania to get there.
  • Example 2: My great-grandparents, Noah and Nancy (Thomas) Cooper, also had 5 children. Descendants of 3 of them came. Given that 1 of them had no children, this is pretty darn good.  
  • Example 3: Last I heard, there had been over 200 people total in attendance, descendants (and friends) of my 3x great-grandparents July and Harriet Cooper.*

There were big meals, a river cruise, line dancing, church services, a barbecue, and lots of time for mingling. And a lucky (or particularly driven) few - of which I was thankfully a part - got to visit the family cemetery, located on the family's ancestral land. I'll write about that in a later post.

For this one, I'd just like to share some photos - some taken by me, others shared with me from other family members from across the different branches.**

If YOU have great pictures from the family reunion, please send them my way! (Bonus points if you include a key with people's names and relationships!)

New Pics, courtesy of Cousin Daisy!

*I haven't researched July and Harriet personally yet - family elders and other family historians have compiled the family tree. While I work backwards from the present to build my own paper trail - "trust but verify" being key in family history research - I'm standing on their shoulders for the research I haven't yet done.

**I threw in one photo that was taken prior to the reunion, of the Davis siblings, because a group photo was not taken of them at the reunion. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mapping a Migration: Settling - and Clustering - in DC

Last week I introduced Operation DC with a map plotting the basics of my family's (great-grandparents, grandparents, their in-laws) migration to DC - who came, from where, and when. In that post, I also mentioned that I'd been compiling a list of family residences in DC, the goal being to get a better understanding of the neighborhoods in which they live and the institutions they might have interacted with (aside from the ones I already knew about), and hopefully opening the door to more resources.

So, my fun with maps continues, with a map of DC homes (1908-1964) for the Cooper, Shepherd, Petite, Watkins, Reid, Reeves and Ferguson families:

Some notes on the creation of this map:

  • Addresses were pulled from City Directories, Deeds, Draft Registration Cards, Newspaper Articles (including obituaries and marriage license application announcements), and Social Security Number applications.
  • The map was created using Google's My Maps function
  • Each individual, family or married couple (depending on what they were at the time) has their points plotted in a different color, on a different layer of the map
  • You can't actually see all the points on the map, because some are stacked on top of each other, as multiple couples lived in the same buildings, sometimes at the same time, sometimes over time

This last note above actually points to the coolest thing about all of this for me: seeing how families clustered together and supported each other through shared housing. Notice the clusters on this map, circled below:

The cluster to the left is a group of homes the Petites lived in, including my great-grandmother Katherine Shepherd's aunt Eleanor (Allen/Ellis) Petite and her son Fred Petite, as well as Katherine herself and her son, my grandfather Louis Shepherd. This is in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

The cluster in the center represents homes of the Coopers (my grandmother Elnora's family) as well as the homes their children and spouses (Fergusons, Reeveses, and Shepherds) would move into. This is in the Capitol Hill and Eastern Market neighborhoods.

On the right is a cluster of homes the Reid and Watkins families lived in. My grandfather Louis' second wife Doris was born a Reid; Doris' mother Cornelia was born a Watkins. These homes are roughly in the Capitol Heights, Grant Park, and Capitol View neighborhoods.

(Other markers generally represent either residences when a person or family first arrived in DC, or later homes of children after they married spouses and established themselves in the later half of the roughly 60-year period I'm researching.)

But actually, you need to drill down further to really see the clusters, and because of the stacked data points, a map isn't the best way to see it. So, I created a series of visuals:

Homes Owned by Noah and Nancy (Thomas) Cooper

(I don't have all dates of residence for all families, so you can see that a few of the years are approximate, and my research focus ends in 1964, so even if I have records of residence after that year, they aren't included here.)

This shows the two homes purchased by my great-grandparents in Washington, DC. According to Nancy's obituary, the family migrated up from Georgia in 1934, and city directories show Noah's early DC jobs were as a janitor, so it's notable that they were able to purchase two houses in about 10 years. My guess is that Noah sold his portion of the land inherited from his mother, but I haven't yet researched this.

Eleanor and Katherine, Sticking Together

When my great-grandmother moved to DC, she was just a teenager, maybe 16 years old, and she moved into the household of her maternal aunt Eleanor Petite, Eleanor's husband, Oswald, and their son Frederick. In 1922, Katherine gave birth to my grandfather Louis, while still living with the Petites, and in 1923, Oswald Petite passed away. It was now a household of two women and their sons. Katherine was briefly married in 1927, but within 2 years, she and Louis were back to living with Eleanor and Fred. In all, they shared at least 4 homes together between 1918 and 1933, when Eleanor passed away.

Watkins Neighbors or Housemates?

Meanwhile, my step-great-grandmother Cornelia (Watkins) Reid and her siblings, plus spouses, were living as either neighbors, or perhaps housemates (depending on whether the Blaine Street addresses are actually a case of an information collector getting their info wrong).

This doesn't cover all of the examples of family clustering or house sharing, but I'll end with two of my favorites before your eyes glaze over, if they haven't already:

The Girl and Boy Next Door

On the left is my grandfather Louis Shepherd. On the right, in the household of Noah and Nancy Cooper, is his future wife, Elnora. I've written more about them here.

And, new to me:

Share a House, Share a Life?

Yes, future husband and wife Fred Petite and Annice Gray lived in the same house at different times! Fred's mom Eleanor purchased 813 22nd Street NW from Annice's father and family in 1924. Censuses show the Grays (including Annice) living there at least from 1910-1920.  City Directories show that the Petites didn't move in immediately, but they're living there in 1930, according to that year's Census. By 1936, Fred and Annice are married. I want to know the story there!

My next steps will involve researching the neighborhoods in which my family lived to see what adds to my understanding of their stories. I'll also be researching the institutions - churches, schools, businesses, etc - with which they were affiliated. This'll take a while, but there will be posts along the way.

And now that I've written this up, I've got a family reunion to head to!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Genealogical Serendipity: Is This How Katherine Met Ivan?

As you know, I've started on a research project called Operation DC. My goal: to build up my contextual understanding of Washington, DC between 1900 and 1964 so that I can find records about - and ultimately better understand - the lives of my grandparents, great-grandparents and associated relatives who were born in or moved to DC during that time.

To that end, I picked up this little stack of books from the library on Wednesday...

(Book list at bottom of page)

...and started reading The Guide to Black Washington: Places and Events of Historical and Cultural Significance in the Nation's Capital. And that's when I found what may turn out to be a very useful little gem:

“By the 1920s and 1930s the National Theater was a focal point of antisegregation protest in Washington. The arrival of Marc Connelly’s successful Broadway production, The Green Pastures, starring the distinguished black actor Richard B. Harrison as “de Lawd,” threw the black community into turmoil.
Why does this matter to me?

Well, my great-grandmother Katherine Shepherd married a man named Ivan Lewis Gittens Sharpe, in 1957, in New York City. Ivan was an actor (though how steadily, I don't know). And can you guess the name of one of the plays in which he performed? Yes, The Green Pastures. In fact, here's a review of his acting in this play that appeared in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on December 10, 1932:

Accessed  on the Old Fulton New York Post Cards website.

I've always wondered how Katherine and Ivan met. Well, I know that Katherine was living in DC until sometime between 1940 and 1957, when she moved to New York. My assumption was that they met there. But this snippet of text from The Black Guide to Washington makes me wonder: Did Katherine meet Ivan in DC while he was performing in The Green Pastures? To get closer to an answer, I'd need to know:

  • When exactly did The Green Pastures come to DC?
  • Was Ivan Sharpe performing in the play at that time?
  • And, if possible, what was the cast up to in DC?
  • Basically, is it likely that he and Katherine crossed paths?

So many questions! You can bet I will be researching this as Operation DC continues!

P.S. Here's the book list!

Evelyn, Douglas E. and Paul Dickson. On This Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C. Washington, DC: Farragut Publishing Company, 1992.

Fitzpatrick, Sandra, and Maria R. Goodwin. The Guide to Black Washington: Places and Events of Historical and Cultural Significance in the Nation's Capital. New York: Hippocrene, 2001.

Gardullo, Paul. The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2009.

Stewart, Allison. First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School. Chicago, IL: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013.

Willis, Deborah, and Jane Lusaka. Visual Journal: Harlem and D.C. in the Thirties and Forties. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1996.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mapping a Migration: Coopers, Shepherds and Other Relations

In just over a week, I'm headed down to Georgia with my mom for her maternal family's biennial reunion. This year is extra special, because the Cooper-Cummings are gathering in Augusta, GA, and will have the opportunity to see our ancestral land - including land the family used to farm, land the family still owns, and even an old family cemetery. I am very excited!

I love going to these reunions anyway because not only are they a chance for me to meet distant relatives and learn more about family history, they're also a chance for all of my mom's siblings - the Shepherds - to get together and talk about their father's history. All of which means I need to be prepared 1) to ask the right questions to push my research along, and 2) to share what I've found since the last reunion.

All of this has prompted me to start a focused research project that I'm calling Operation DC. Washington, DC is where my grandparents Elnora Cooper and Louis Shepherd met, it's where my grandfather married the only maternal grandmother I was able to know (Doris Reid), where the Coopers migrated from Georgia, where my great-grandmother Katherine Shepherd moved from New Jersey to live with her aunt, and where my mom and her siblings were raised. There's quite a lot of my family history in that city!

For Step 1, I thought I'd focus on the who, what, when, and where of their lives in DC, with an eye towards the "where" especially. I've spent the past week or so recording and organizing every known address I've found from the time the first relative moved to the city until the year the last of my mom's siblings was born (1964). We're talking census records, city directories, deeds, and more!

The first result of that is this map, which is a simple visual of when people arrived in Washington, DC, and from where. It's not necessarily new information, but it's helpful - at least for me - to see it mapped out.

Clicking on a red marker will tell you the family or individual, their starting point, and a little about life at home. Clicking on the green line will tell you when (sometimes approximately) they arrived in DC and what they were up to after they arrived.

A few things:
  • The Coopers, Shepherds, and Allens/Ellises are my starting families - I am biologically descended from them, the Coopers through my mother's mother, the Shepherds and Allens/Ellises through my mother's father.
  • The Ferguson, Petite, Reeves, and Reid/Watkins families married into the above families.
  • With the possible exception of Oswald Petite, everyone came from a farming family and had done some work on a farm or in a farming household.
  • Members of each family had arrived in DC by the 1930s, putting them firmly in the Great Migration, which saw millions of African Americans move from the rural South to the urban North (and West and Midwest) during roughly the first half of the 20th Century.

As I continue with Operation DC, I'm looking forward to learning more about their schools, communities, jobs, and all of the other things that made up the context of their daily lives, especially given how different DC must have been from the farming communities where so many of them were raised! This is gonna take a while, but stay tuned as I use maps, timelines, photos and more to dig into these stories.

 And, as always, please share if you know something I don't!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Photo Friday: Bowling Highliners, 1957-1958

This Photo Friday, it's another photoset taken from my Grandma Doris' albums, which I am slowly (s-l-o-w-l-y) in the process of digitizing. These were taken about 6 years before this set of bowling photos, and look to be from an end-of-season banquet and awards ceremony, probably in Washington, DC or Maryland.

That's my Grandma second from left, pictured with (L-R) Roland Stribling, J. Gray, Cecilia Petty, and Joe Franklin.

In addition to the original photo above, Grandma Doris also had an article from a bowling newsletter (from whichever association this event was held for), that described the bowling season a bit:

It reads, in part:
After thirty-three weeks of excitement and close competition another most successful season of bowling has been concluded, To add to the interest in the league of twelve teams only three games in the won column separated the first and seventh place teams when the final results were determined.
Trophies were presented to each member of the teams that finished in the first three positions. The champion Highliners (shown above left to right) Roland Stribling, Doris Mathis, John Gray, Cecilia Petty, Capt. and Joseph Franklin, League President.
The climax of the season was a banquet paid for with league funds. Each member and his or her guest had an abundance and variety of foods and beverages to choose from and dancing to the accompaniment of a 5-piece band.

To round out this set, here's a glamour shot of my grandmother, with all her trophies from the evening:

I love the glamour of these photos - the floor-length gown, the gloves - and it's a feature of many of the photos I've come across in her albums. She was never rich - she made many of her own dresses - and she wasn't part of Washington, DC's African American elite, but the circle she was a part of and the era in which she did all of this socializing provided her with opportunities to doll up, opportunities she certainly made the best of!

(Doris Shepherd was a fixture of DC's bowling world for decades. Click "bowling" in the word cloud to the right to see related posts.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Let's Celebrate Bertha Elizabeth Kilson, Class of 1936!

It's graduation season and for the past two Wednesdays, I've been highlighting relevant fun finds from the Kilson branch of my family tree. I started with Samuel Dennis Kilson's 1933 high school yearbook and continued with a 1931 article about the 8th grade graduation of his little sisters Bertha Elizabeth and Eleanor Frances Kilson. This week I'm highlighting Bertha's senior year yearbook, from 1936.

The great thing about finding yearbooks in genealogical research is that they can give you insight into a person's personality and interests that you just can't get from vital records like birth, death and marriage certificates. Here's Bertha's listing:

Check her out, in the upper right corner, right at the top of the page. Like her older brother Samuel, Bertha - or Lib, as she apparently was known - took the General track of high school courses, as opposed to Commercial, College Prep, or Scientific. (Note: This wasn't a track that all black students were pushed into, and, as you can see above, it wasn't solely black students who took it.)

Bertha E. Kilson school photo
Also like her brother, Bertha kept her school commitments pretty light, but she was actually a bit more engaged than he was: she participated in Biology Club in her sophomore year, and French Club in her senior year. In fact, most of the students on this page were in Biology Club together - can you picture them dissecting frogs in a classroom? And Bertha would have been in French Club with the Class of 1936's "Most Friendly" person, Dorothy Levitsky. Were they friends?

In fact, I do wonder what the Kilsons' social relationships were like. The high school was integrated, but Salem itself wasn't exactly a mecca of racial harmony and equality. (See here for a post about the KKK in Salem in the 1920s and 30s, and here for an outside blog post about segregation in Salem.) And you can see that Bertha - the only visibly black student on this page - is also the only student on this page who did not sign this yearbook. Are those things related?

However, look what her classmates wrote about her: "With youth and jollity by her side." When you compare it to what they wrote about other seniors, like Comley Link, who "minds his own business and plods along," or Esther Mae Lamb, who was "a living illustration of responsibility," you definitely get the sense that Bertha brought some joy and levity to her class body, and that they appreciated it.

If Bertha had made it to her 25th Reunion in 1961, I wonder how her classmates would have greeted her. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1953. But her classmates hadn't forgotten her:

So, congrats to Bertha Kilson, Salem High School Class of 1936 - gone, but not forgotten!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Photo Friday: Is This Samuel Kilson at Grant Street School?

At the end of Wednesday's post, I mentioned that it was possible one of the Kilson brothers was pictured in a 1922 photograph of students at the Grant Street School in Salem, NJ. Well, I had to follow up.

You can find the full picture here. I showed it to my mom and she thinks the boy in the lower right hand corner is Samuel Kilson, who would have been about 8 the year this photo was taken. Here's a side-by-side comparison using a photo that my Great-Grandmother Katherine Sheppard / Shepherd had of her cousin when she passed:

Photo on left cropped from, originally provided by Salem County Historical Society.

I'm also wondering about the boy in the upper left corner. What do YOU think?

We also scoured the image to see if anyone looked like Carl Kilson, who would have been about 9, but didn't see any strong options in the original photo. Here's what we used for comparison:

Again, what do YOU think?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Eighth Grade Graduate! Or Graduates?

A few weeks I was doing my usual genealogical trawling of the interwebs when I came across this gem through Google Newspaper Archives:

Published the week of June 27, 1931 in the Afro-American, a black-owned newspaper that covered stories and events from across the U.S, this article discusses the 8th grade graduation ceremony for the Grant Street School in Salem, New Jersey. And guess who was mentioned? Both Bertha Elizabeth and Eleanor Frances Kilson!

Wait, what? Bertha and Eleanor were born 2 and a half years apart - Eleanor in 1915 and Bertha in 1918 - so why were they in the 8th grade together? And when Bertha appears in the yearbook with the Class of 1936, Eleanor is not listed (nor could I find her in other years, though she is definitely alive). Was Eleanor left back for some reason? Or did she start school late? Or something else? I wish I knew!

While I don't have answers to those questions, I do have an answer to another : What did Bertha and Eleanor look like in 1931? Through an awesome twist of fate, when my Great-Grandmother Katherine Sheppard/Shepherd passed away, she had in her possession school photos of her Kilson cousins, photos that were passed down to my mother and that included pictures of both Bertha and Eleanor taken in...1931!

That's Bertha, who would have been 12 or 13, on the left and Eleanor, who would have been 15, on the right.

(Note: I actually think Eleanor looks much younger than 15 here, and that Bertha looks like she could be older, but I have both of their birth dates confirmed from multiple documents and I have other labeled pictures of each of them that confirm their identities.)

Now that you can picture them, here's an excerpt from the article:
The eighth grade promotion exercises of Grant Street School were held in the Salem High School Auditorium Tuesday evening, June 16.
The program included the invocation by the Rev. I. N. Holly; choruses, by the grades; essay, "The Influence of Woman," by Gladys Brown; oration, "The Power of Little Things," Alonzo Dunn.
The address, "Effectually Serving," was made by the Rev. D. H. Hargis, district superintendent of the M.E. Church, Wilmington, Del., and the awarding certificates and prizes by Wm. C. Anderson, principal. Fifteen pupils received attendance certificates. Catherine Dobyns received a prize for the highest average scholastic, and conduct standing in English, history, geography, arithmetic and spelling. The prize, $5 in gold, was awarded by the Colored Women's Club of Salem.
The ribbons for best made graduation dresses were: first prize, Thelma Rose Fielder; second prize, Catherine Dobyns; third prize, Lottie Bidgle Moore. The presentation of eighth grade certificates was made by A.J. Dohner. The benediction was pronounced by the Rev. G. H. Crayton

This is followed by a list of all the graduates, including our young Kilson ladies. How interesting to get a glimpse into graduation day for our two Kilson sisters! Just like today, students were awarded for their scholastic achievements and the audience was gifted with philosophical speeches full of reflection. On the other hand, here girls were awarded for best made dress, and - unlike the public school graduations I've been to - clergy clearly played a prominent role! It was a different time indeed.

Can you imagine Eleanor and Bertha sitting up on stage, fidgeting when the speeches got too long, wondering if they were going to get a prize, maybe making faces at their parents and brothers (18 and 19) in the audience? 

And what was it like to attend the Grant Street School? Actually, blogger Peter Genovese wrote an interesting story about segregation in New Jersey schools, that specifically mentions Grant Street. Even more, it includes a picture of students in front of the building in 1922! That's doubly cool because it's quite likely either Carl, Samuel or both of them were in that school at that time - Samuel graduated Salem High School in 1933 at age 19 and Carl was a year older than him. In 1922, they would have been 8 and 9. A Kilson might be in that picture! I can't say for sure, though.

In any case, congrats to the Grant Street School Class of 1931, especially Bertha and Eleanor Kilson!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mystery Monday: Who Is Liontly Banks?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a really interesting book by Bill Bryson called One Summer: America, 1927. In it, Bryson – who is seriously my favorite non-fiction author anywhere ever – basically presents a snapshot of the United States in the Summer of 1927 highlighting not just significant people and events but also the sometimes surprising connections between them. Imagine, in this one summer:

  • Charles Lindbergh made the first successful non-stop flight across the Atlantic between New York and Paris,
  • Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run and set a record that wouldn’t be broken until 1961,
  • Carving began on Mount Rushmore,
  • Prohibition – and bootlegging, and organized crime – were running full steam ahead,
  • Television as we know it was publically debuted,
  • Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were sentenced to death and executed for a robbery and murders they almost certainly did not commit, sparking protests and riots around the world,
  • The first feature-length talking movie was released in theaters,
  • Finance officials from Europe and the US met and made a decision that would lead to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression,
  • and so much more!

It was a pretty significant summer - especially in retrospect - and the book really is fascinating. In fact, it made me wonder, what was my family up to in 1927?

At the same time, on Sunday evening, I realized that I haven’t written a Mystery Monday post in a while, despite having many mysteries in my genealogical files. And, because the first person I think of when I think “mystery” is my maternal great-grandmother Katherine, I turned to her files. Well, guess what she was up to in the summer of 1927? Getting hitched!

And therein lies the mystery. We know the name of her husband – Liontly Banks – but that’s pretty much all we know about him! Who the heck was he??

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. We know that Katherine Shepherd and Liontly T. Banks were married on July 5, 1927 by the Reverend John C. Mosley. The marriage was solemnized at 413 21st NW in Washington, DC, the home that Katherine and her son Louis had lived in with Katherine’s aunt Eleanor (Allen) Petite and her family since at least 1920. Here’s the record:

Liontly is listed as being “of Washington, DC” and he is 34 years old. The document also says this is his first marriage. That’s not a ton to go on, but thankfully there’s a pretty robust collection of extant city directories for DC. Looking through those, we find the couple in 1929. Only. He’s listed as Lionly (minus the “t”) and their residence is 1318 22nd Street NW, Apartment 4. He is working as a waiter.

By 1930, Katherine’s back to living with her aunt Eleanor Petite, according both to the city directory and the census. Though her last name is Banks, she’s listed as single. She lives with Eleanor until Eleanor passes in 1933.

1930 Census for Katherine (Shepherd) Banks in Washington, DC.

As for Liontly, where does he go after 1929? And where was he before 1927? Darned if I know. There’s a Linley Banks in the city directory for 1927 (the year they got married) and he’s a waiter, but we can’t be sure it’s him. He’s living at 2619 K Street NW. In 1924, there’s a Leontly Banks living at 505 S Street NW. He’s a tailor. Is this him? Can’t say for sure! And there’s a Loney Banks in 1930 living at 1512 Caroline NW and working as a waiter, but, again, can we be sure it’s him? No. There is no listing of him in other years in DC directories that I have found.


The only other document I have – and I’m not certain this is him – is a 1918 World War I Draft Registration Card for a Liontly Banks. His home address is Charles City, VA; he’s a machinist’s helper working in Newport News, VA; and his nearest relative is his mother, Mattie Banks. He’s also 37 years old, which would make him 46 when he marries in 1927, as opposed to the 34 which is written on his marriage document above. So, inconsistent. Just to be safe, I searched multiple census years for a Mattie Banks in or near VA with a son named Liontly (or a similar name) with no luck.

My last clue is the 1940 Census. It lists Katherine Banks and her son Louis Shepherd as boarders in a home in Southeast DC. She is listed as widowed.

I wrote a few years ago to the DC Department of Health to see if they had a record of his death between 1928 and 1930. Nope! They suggested I check Maryland and Virginia as well. Maryland’s records are online up to 1944. No Liontly (or variation) Banks. I still need to check VA.

So, in summary

  • 1881: Born? Uncertain identity.
  • 1893: Born?
  • 1918: Liontly Banks (37, machinist’s helper) in VA. Uncertain identity.
  • 1924: Leontly Banks (tailor) in SW DC. Uncertain identity.
  • 1927: Linley Banks (waiter) in NW DC. Uncertain identity.
  • 1927: Liontly Banks (34 yrs) marries Katherine Shepherd in NW DC.
  • 1929: Lionly (waiter) and Cath Banks in NW DC.
  • 1930: Wife Katherine is no longer living with him. No sign of him in city directories
  • 1940: Is deceased?

It’s possible that Katherine was something called a “grass widow,” a new term I learned at last month’s genealogy conference that refers to a woman whose husband has abandoned her. They often said they were widowed to avoid the embarrassment of abandonment or divorce. Perhaps Liontly lived a long life somewhere where I just haven’t found him yet.

Who knows? But, I’ll keep searching!

Ideas, suggestions, etc? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Photo Friday: Bowling Tournament, Minneapolis 1964

In between my active research, my major genealogy project is to digitize my late Grandma Doris (Reid / Mathis / Shepherd)'s photo albums. We brought 29 of them home after cleaning out her apartment in April 2015 and I have  S-L-O-W-L-Y been going through and scanning images. They are such an interesting look into her life, her family, some of my biological grandmother's family (the Coopers), the world of bowling, Washington, DC, and several decades that I didn't get to experience (namely, the 50s - early 80s). As I go through this process, I'll be using the Photo Friday heading to post some of my favorite photos, starting today!

This is my Grandma Doris (far right) posing with members of her Washington, DC bowling team at a Women's International Bowling Congress competition in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1964. Two things: 1) I love the jaunty set of her hat, 2) She is one pretty lady!

And here is another team from Washington, DC - they probably all bowled together frequently back at home. Check out the lady in the shades - she is too cool for school!

If you didn't already know, bowling was one of Grandma Doris' passions, so there are A LOT of bowling photos in these albums. Be warned :) And click "bowling" in the word cloud to the right if you'd like to see related posts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Congrats to Samuel Kilson, Class of...1933!

Happy June! It's graduation season, so it seemed the right time to pull out some genealogical material about graduations past. And since I've begun to write more about the Kilsons in Salem, NJ - starting with this timeline - it seemed appropriate to start with them!

I was lucky enough, a few years ago, to come across a set of Salem High School Yearbooks while researching at the Salem County Historical Society. I didn't know much about the Kilsons or my Great-Grandmother Katherine Sheppard / Shepherd at the time, but I figured I'd search and see what I found. Lucky me, I found two Kilsons, though I didn't find my great-grandmother or the other Kilson siblings.

Here's the title page from the 1933 edition of the Salem High School Yearbook:

And here is the page listing Samuel Dennis Kilson:

Samuel was born in August of 1913, so he would have been 19 years old at the time of his graduation.

Underneath his name, to the left, you can see his educational track, listed as General. Other tracks apparently included Scientific, College Preparatory, and Commercial.Salem H.S was an integrated school and so I wondered if his being in the General was due to his race, but you can see that Sara Clara Jones, directly above him, is in the College Prep track.

To the right, you can see that he was known by the nickname "Sandy." I've seen him referred to elsewhere as "Sandtop," probably due to the color of his hair when he was young. In fact, you can see it a bit in this school picture from two years prior (though lighting surely plays a role as well):

As with today's yearbooks, Salem's Class of 1933 had the opportunity to list their club and extracurricular involvement, as well as favorite quotes or other commentary. It also seems classmates provided a reflection on each of their peers. While Samuel doesn't have any clubs or quotes listed, it seems his classmates regarded him well - he was a "Mighty fine classmate; straight clear through." How neat to get a little insight into his personality, even if it really is just a little bit!

I wonder what Samuel was doing instead of participating in clubs or playing on school teams. Perhaps he helped his father Waymon, who was a laborer, at work, or maybe he was holding down his own afterschool job, possibly at the Fenwick Theatre where we find him later on.

Either way, hat tip to Samuel Dennis Kilson on his graduation as a member of Salem High School's Class of 1933!

If you'd like to see the entire yearbook, apparently it's now available on, if you have an account. If you'd like to see a picture of the school as it likely looked when he attended, click here to see a postcard on sale on (Note: I am not the seller and don't know how long the listing will be up. If I find a public domain picture of the school, I'll edit this post accordingly.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Military Monday: Carl Writes From Baer Field

Carl "Bear" Kilson

Early on in my Kilson genealogical research, I struck gold. After planting seeds on various message boards looking for information about any of the 6 Kilson family members, someone responded that she had something that one of them had written: a letter composed by Carl Kilson while he was serving during World War II!

In July of 1942, at the age of 30 years old, Carl traveled from Salem, NJ to nearby Camden to enlist in the U.S. Army. By October, he was a stationed at Baer Field, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where training, servicing and staging took place for Army Air Force troops and troop carriers (including several that carried troops to the Invasion of Normandy in 1944). He was one of upwards of 100,000 military personnel to work there. And on October 17th, he wrote the following letter to a friend back home in Salem named Williard M.:

(Click the images to enlarge. Transcription follows.)

Page One:
Sat. Oct 17
4: P.M.

Hello Willie,

Received your card today and was glad to know that you are getting along all rite and busy as Hell these days. Tell all your help that knew me I say Hello and everything is going all rite with me. It’s been pretty good to me around here and I just got done washing, as things keep you busy around here keeping clean, especially when you wear white in the kitchen all the time.

The old saying around here, when you fall out with a guy, You are on my shit list or You done tore your ass with me, they have these sayings going on all the time until some body thinks up a new one and [text missing].

Page Two:

[Text missing] out. I don’t get lonesome out here a bit, because there is something going on all the time that keeps your mind occupied. You know me, it’s nothing that worries me, as time must go on. The guys have a thing here about their money money all the time, just as soon as pay day comes they are up half the nite gambling and before the nite’s over with they have lost all their month’s pay. It’s something because there are some rich guys the next day. But me I still have mind the first time I came here.

The kitchen is agreeing with me very much and you should see me now. I will be home some of these days. Have you seen Jack lately or heard from him? Send me his address and I will rite to him. Well it’s about time for supper now so Goodbye. (Bear).

According to his obituary, Carl served as a Mess Sergeant from 1942 – 1946, stationed in Fort Wayne the entire time. How interesting to get a personal view into his time in the Army, even if it’s only a brief snapshot of this part of his life.

I hope to get my hands on Carl’s military record, so that I can learn more about his service and experiences during the war. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about Baer Field, I started here.

Many thanks to Jo Ann C. for your generosity in sharing this letter – I am so grateful to you for sharing a copy of a keepsake that meant something to both of our families!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

But at Least We Know Who His Mother Is, Right?

Lest you think the Social Security Number application is the only frustrating document I've recently discovered for my great-grandfather, Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson, let me share with you another one.

Click Image to Enlarge. Snippet from first page of Steve's birth recording in Montgomery County Register of Births, 1913-1917. DOB April 15, 1913.

Click Image to Enlarge. Snippet from second page of Steve's birth recording in Montgomery County Register of Births, 1913-1917. DOB April 15, 1913.

This record actually predates the SSN one, both in terms of when it was created, and when I found it, and it was quite the happy discovery. See, this is my great-grandfather's entry in the Montgomery County Birth Register for April 1913. I found it on my first trip to Alabama, back in March, in the Montgomery County Probate Court's office. (Shout out to the super friendly and very helpful archivist and front desk staffer - they were both great!) If you waded through my series of posts trying to establish Steve / Theodore's identity, you know that I had been desperately hoping to find a birth certificate or other record of his birth. So, jackpot!


Who does it list as his mother? That doesn't say Laura Ann...

Close up of mother's name, age and race from Birth Register

Come on! His dad's name is what we would expect - Stephen Evens (sic) but now his mom's isn't! It appears to say Sarah Evens, and even the Sarah looks like there was some confusion when it was written down.

Now, I can pretty reasonably assume that this is a clerical or reporting error, as neither parent was the informant.

Millie Bedson, who reported Baby Steve's birth. She was probably a midwife.

We know from the 1910 Census and Steve (father)'s 1918 World War I Draft Registration Card that Steve is married to Laura Ann Evans. Since Steve (son)'s birth falls in 1913, meaning between these two other records, we can assume Steve (father) and Laura Ann are together at this time. Plus, Baby Steve is listed as their 7th child together, this is listed as the first marriage for both, and he is reported as a "legitimate" child, aka not born outside of wedlock.

Furthermore, this birth register gives "Sarah's" age as 30 years old, within two years of what Laura Ann would be according to her birth year of 1885 (estimated from her listing in the 1910 Census).

And while we do know of one actual Sarah Evans, she is the daughter of Steve and Laura Ann, and would have been about 10 years old when her brother Steve was born. There are other Sarah Evans in Montgomery County around this time, but they are not likely candidates, especially given all of the above.

So, I'm going to chalk this up to a reporting or clerical error, until and unless some future DNA test calls this conclusion into question.