Friday, January 29, 2016

Photo Friday: Columbia Hospital for Women

My maternal grandfather, Louis Allen Shepherd, was born at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, DC on December 29, 1922. 
Here's a photo of the hospital, located at 2425 L Street NW, taken sometime between 1909 and 1932:

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

The building still stands and, having been renovated to house condos, is now known as the Columbia Residences:

From Wikipedia, uploaded by AgnosticPreachersKid, used per Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0.

According to Wikipedia, Al Gore, Duke Ellington and Katherine Heigl were also born here. Interesting!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Digging Into My Southern Roots

I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts that I’m currently taking a year away from work to chase a couple of my passions, namely travel and family history research. And you've probably seen sprinkled here and there recently a mention of the fact that I was moving to New Orleans. Well, I’m super excited that as of last week, I am officially in The Big Easy and will be making this my home for the next few months. And just as I was doing when I was back home in Philly, I’m taking advantage of geography in my quest for genealogical information.

Heretofore on this genealogical blogging journey, I’ve been focusing on my mom’s paternal lineage, particularly her father’s mother’s story. I’ll still be sharing stories related to Katherine Jane Sheppard/Shepherd’s life – there are lots to tell! But, while I’m down here, my plan is to dig into my southern roots and start telling some of those stories as well.

My maternal grandmother, Elnora Mae Cooper
On my mother’s side, this means I get to explore her maternal roots in more depth – my grandmother Elnora Mae Cooper came north to Washington, DC from Burke County, Georgia with her siblings and parents in the 1930s. I’ll also be many miles closer to a few of my mom’s siblings and will be able to interview them in person, which I’m really looking forward to.

My paternal great-grandmother, Beatrice Harris.
Happily, this move also means that I get to start sharing some stories from my father’s side of the family, too! His maternal roots trace back to Jefferson County, Alabama, where his grandmother Beatrice Harris and her sister Lillian Harris lived before moving north to Ohio and Illinois in the 1930s and 40s.

So, stay tuned family – if you haven’t been seeing your people on this blog yet, you will soon! And, of course, if you have been seeing your people, don’t worry, I’ll keep sharing! As always, thanks to you all for helping me learn about and share our family history.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Genetic Genealogy Hunt Has Started!

Exciting News: My maternal uncle (one of my mom's brothers) has ordered a DNA kit! This means we are about to start walking down the genetic genealogy path to see who his father's father - my maternal great-grandfather - is!

My maternal grandfather, Louis Allen Shepherd, with his mother Katherine Sheppard/Shepherd.
If you've been reading this blog, you know that we don't have any documents that say who my grandfather Louis Allen Shepherd's dad was. And his children don't remember him ever discussing it, or giving any indication that he even knew. So as I've been doing my genealogical research, it's been a question we come back to with each new document we find.

Hopefully, this DNA test will get us a little (or even a lot) closer to finding an answer. The AncestryDNA test (through is an autosomal test. Normally when we (non-scientific, lay people) think about DNA and chromosomes, we think about the sex chromosomes: xx for women and xy for men. But humans actually have 22 other pairs of chromosomes called autosomes - these basically program us for all the things aside from our sex. The autosomal DNA test analyzes these chromosomes and then compares them to others in the company's database (note Ancestry isn't the only company that does this kind of test, and so different companies have different databases of varying sizes). The results they give you will tell you 1) the geographic regions of the world where it's likely your ancestors came from, and 2) if there are people in their database of other test-takers who are likely to be related to you. (Only people who wish to be identified are identified.)

According to International Society of Genetic Genealogy, autosomal DNA tests are highly accurate up to the second cousin level, meaning that this should be able to link my uncle to people who would have the same great-grandfather as him. We're just hoping we'll find someone who shares the same grandfather as him!

I may also ask my mom and her other siblings to take the test, recognizing that each child inherits only a selection of their parents' genes. Each child gets 50% of their DNA from each of their parents, but which genes? The more of Louis' kids who take the test, perhaps the more luck we'll have with our ancestor search, because we will have a broader base of their dad's DNA - the matches from Ancestry's test-taker database that they have in common will seemingly be our best bets for finding a common ancestor. (Their mother's family is well-documented, so it should be relatively easy - no pun intended! - to separate known family from new discoveries.)

So, here's hoping we have some luck!

P.S. I am NOT an expert on genetic genealogy - I'll be learning as we go along. Credit where credit is due: I have to thank Gina Paige of for teaching on this topic several times at meetings of the African American Genealogy Group (AAGG) in Philadelphia, as well as Dena M. Chasten-Ellis of the African American Historical and Genealogical Society - Delaware Chapter for doing the same. And I keep coming back to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki when I need more information or a refresher.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Finding Family in the Cemetery

Two of the other things my mom and I came across while researching in Salem on Friday - with help from the volunteers at the Salem County Historical Society - were the final resting places of two members of the Kilson family: Carl Kilson and his mother Bertha (Allen or Ellis) Kilson.

They are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, right outside of the City of Salem. 

On my last trip to Salem a few weeks ago, I was able to find Carl's obituary, with a picture, so do expect a post about this soon! Unfortunately I had no such luck with Bertha, nor did my helpful friends at the historical society, so I'm missing that reflection on how others remembered her. However, I do have her certificate of death. Again, post to come (I'm saying that a lot, aren't I? So much writing to do!)

There are 3 other family members that we were hoping to find here, but didn't: Bertha's husband Samuel Wayman Kilson, and their daughters Eleanor and Bertha Elizabeth. Wayman's death certificate states that he is buried at Evergreen, as do Bertha Elizabeth and Eleanor's obituaries, but there are no headstones. Carl and his mother are buried far apart in this fairly small cemetery, but if I had to guess where the others were resting, I would say in the area around Bertha, as there is several plots worth of unmarked ground near her headstone. Perhaps finances kept the shrinking family from purchasing headstones, or perhaps there are actually flat grave markers that have sunk and been covered by earth and grass? We may need to go back and check on a warmer, brighter day.

There is a fourth child, Samuel Dennis Kilson, but he is buried at Beverly National Cemetery, also in Jersey. As to why he is there, but Carl is at Evergreen, when both are veterans, I do not know. Nor do I know why Bertha's headstone gives "W" as her middle initial. And her date of birth differs by a year from another record that I have for her. Not sure which one is correct, but in the long run, I think this is a small detail.

In any case, it was nice to be able to visit Carl and Bertha at their resting place, and was a good way to cap off a day of research.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The KKK in Salem County, New Jersey

This past Friday, my mom and I took a trip down to Salem, New Jersey, the old stomping ground of my great-grandmother Katherine Jane Shepherd, her parents Rose and Samuel, and her probable cousins, the Kilsons. There was plenty of interesting information, but definitely the most compelling thing for me was a folder of newspaper clippings related to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Salem County.

New Jersey has a complicated history when it comes to the treatment of African Americans. On the one hand, the state chose to voluntarily end slavery prior to the start of the Civil War, doing so in 1804 via “gradual emancipation.” (This meant enslaved people were not all freed in one fell swoop, but rather granted their freedom if they were born after a certain date and then served as slaves until they were either 21 or 25, depending on whether they were female or male. If they were born enslaved before that date, they died enslaved unless they were personally freed by their owner or purchased their own freedom. Other states in the North passed similar laws with different date and age cut-offs.)

Salem had an active community of abolitionists and the area saw lots of Underground Railroad activity, especially being so close to Philadelphia, where the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” William Still, lived and worked, and also to the border states of Delaware and Maryland where slavery was still in effect. (See here for a primer.) In another vein, in the late 1800s, the New Jersey Legislature passed a law that forbid children from being excluded from school based on the religion, nationality or color, so for a time schools were integrated before this was a national policy.

On the other hand, New Jersey was actually one of the last states to pass an act for the gradual abolition of slavery – the other northern states that did so passed them mostly in the 1780s. Abolitionists faced constant opposition and danger from supporters of slavery.  The law prohibiting the exclusion of students based on race in schools was “poorly enforced,” and schools in Salem segregated almost as soon as they were legally able, after Plessy v. Ferguson made “separate but equal” acceptable in 1896.

And then there was the KKK (and the White Knights, which are also referenced). The below clippings are from Salem County newspapers, and appeared mostly in the 1920s and 30s, when the Kilsons and possibly Katherine's father were living in the area. These were about half of what was available in the clipping files, and I don’t know how representative these are either of the group’s activities or of the paper’s coverage. I’ll leave you to read these with your own thoughts, but I’ll say three things:

1. Racial terrorism is alive and well today. But I can’t imagine what it must have been like to face this particular brand of racial terror when one’s family might have been just 1-2 generations past chattel slavery, when equal protection under the law was even less of a thing than it is now, and when racism was much more overt and publicly acceptable than it is today.

2. I appreciate that there’s a certain level of journalistic or editorial disdain towards these organizations in at least a few of these pieces. (Check out the passive-aggressiveness in the White Knights article from 1967!)

3. Yes, the fact that the free Kiddie Dinners were open to children of “all races and creeds” seemed weird to me, too. But, the Southern Poverty Law Center (which tracks hate groups in the U.S.) lists a Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK) organization in Harrison, Arkansas as trying to put a “kinder, gentler” face on the Klan. While it says they were founded in 1975, and the KKKK that ran the dinners in Salem was doing so in 1931, it seems they had a similar idea.

Anyway, here’s a selection of snippets:


P.S. Shoutout to the Salem County Historical Society, where I accessed these clippings. As always, thanks for your help!

P.P.S. Schooling info from Small Towns, Black Lives by Wendel A. White (2003) and The African-American Experience in Salem County: An Oral History Project, produced by the Salem County Historical Society (2006).

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Genea To Do List: January 2016 Update

Happy New Year All!

It's been a few weeks since I've posted, but, like you, I've been spending time with family during this holiday season, and writing has definitely been on the back burner. Happily, I got to spend time with folks on both sides of my family, though if you saw one of my more recent posts, you know it wasn't for the happiest of reasons on my paternal side. Still, it's been a while since I've seen those folks and I enjoyed their company. I'll need to plan another trip out so we can be a little sillier, and also so I can do some interviewing about family history!

Back in September, I posted a list of To Do items for my genealogical research. I'm using this public forum to stay accountable, so it's time to give you an update on where things stand.

1. Digitize my Grandma Doris's 29 photo albums and scrapbooks. I'm happy to say that just last night, I made some progress on this! I sat down with my mom and we went through the first 7 photo albums, with her identifying family members I haven't met or just don't remember. Today I'll start scanning those. I've also already scanned a pile of framed awards given to her and my grandfather, Louis Shepherd, and photos that were sprinkled throughout my Grandma Doris' other papers.

2. Plan my first research trip to Washington, DC. Done! I've been down twice already, with the payoff being a bunch of obituaries, funeral and marriage notices and newspaper articles for folks on both sides of my mom's family, plus city directory listings helping me trace the movements of people and families from residence to residence around the city. Plus, the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives has a collection of DC public school yearbooks and I was able to find one of my people in one of them! If I'm lucky, that visit will actually bear more fruit in the near future, thanks to their very helpful staff and connections. Beyond that, I'll still need to take a trip down to the DC Archives, but this may have to happen after my winter break in New Orleans.

3. Reach out to my remaining living Grandfather. I'm working on this one now. I don't personally know my paternal grandfather (it's complicated), but other members of my extended family have maintained or rekindled contact with him. He's in his 80s. Now's the time (!), and I'm planning a trip out with one of his children to go visit him. I'm nervous, but I'm also looking forward to it.

4.  Write up some more of the stories I'm already able to tell and the mysteries I want to solve. If you've been reading this blog, you know I've been making progress on this one. Otherwise, you'd have nothing to read :) I've been focusing on my great-grandmother Katherine Shepherd, and I have many more stories to tell about her and her connections before I even get started on other lines!

5. Figure out my priorities for Ohio research. *Cricket* There's been so much to do on my maternal side that I haven't gotten to this yet. It will need to be one of the things I think about and get started on while I'm in New Orleans, which is important because while I'm down there I plan to visit and do research in Alabama, from whence my Ohio people came! One of my priorities, though, is continuing to interview my living family members, and I did a bit of this, informally, while I was out there a couple of weeks ago.

6. Review my current research for holes, lingering questions, and mistakes. On my mother's side, yes, with a focus on her paternal branch. As I continue to interview family members, and also dig deeper into archives, I'll be cross-referencing what I'm hearing and reading with my current research to see what, if anything needs changing or updating.

7. Set goals for additional research trips. In addition to my two DC trips, I've taken two productive trips down to Salem, New Jersey and one to the Gloucester County Historical Society, also in NJ. As I mentioned, I'm working on a trip to visit my paternal grandfather in West Virginia, hopefully in the next 4-5 months, as well as a trip to Alabama, between now and the end of April. In that same timeframe, while I'm based in New Orleans, I'll also be taking a trip over to Georgia to research my mom's maternal ancestry. Before I leave, I'm making at least 1 daytrip up to NYC to look for probate records for my maternal great-grandmother Katherine Shepherd and her last husband (as far as I know), Ivan Sharpe. And I might take another trip down to Salem for contextual information on my New Jersey maternal people.

So, there you have it - I've made some real progress on my To Do List and other things are in the works! I'll come back to this again around the end of March to note progress or (hopefully not) setbacks. Until then, the writing, researching and interviewing continues!