Monday, April 18, 2016

On the Horizon!

My time in the Crescent City is almost over, and I’m not gonna lie, I will be so sad to leave! The food, the live music, the architecture, the weather (I basically skipped winter this year!!), the history – I’ve had so much fun exploring this place. Plus, as you know, being down here has been both a great opportunity and a great motivator for researching the Southern branches of my tree. I haven’t gotten to them all – my mom’s maternal roots in Georgia, specifically – but I made some real progress!

From my other blog,
From my other blog,

But even though I’m sad to go, I have some great opportunities to look forward to in the next few weeks and months.

  • Before my official farewell to New Orleans, I’m taking another quick trip to Alabama. When else will it be so easy for me to see my newfound cousin and meet more of my extended family? To walk some more of the ground my ancestors walked? And to access more of the records they left behind? I’m taking advantage of my geography!

  • I won’t be heading straight home to Philadelphia from New Orleans once it’s time to go. Instead, I’m stopping over in Fort Lauderdale for a few days at the beginning of May. While there, I am SUPER excited to be attending the National Genealogical Society 2016 Family History Conference. Being a successful family historian means always learning and this conference is chock full of useful sessions and interesting topics to help me get better at this passion project of mine.  I’ll get to learn about strategies for solving genealogical mysteries and overcoming brick walls, to focus on topics and challenges specific to African American research, to hear about new and new-to-me resources for historical data, and to pick up ideas for sharing research with family and friends. My nerd meter is at an 11, y’all.

  • Next, in July, I'm heading down to my mother’s maternal family reunion on the family land in Georgia. I’ve been to reunions for this branch before, but never down in Georgia and I am SO excited to see the deeper roots of this part of my tree. I will absolutely be documenting my trip and will hopefully also get in some interviews with family members, and maybe a trip to the local county courthouse. (That’s a lot to cram in – we’ll see what happens.)

I’m playing around with some other ideas – I have a trip to reschedule to interview my mom’s oldest brother, among other things – so I may end up doing even more in the next few months. Of course, all this travel is only possible right now because I’m still in the midst of my year off of work, and I do have some more international travel goals, so I’m balancing several desires here.  

In any case, stay tuned for posts about each of these experiences, as well as my continued explorations into the people, places, and events that make up my – our – family tree!

And, as always, if you have a picture, story, document or memory you think I'd like to know about, please share! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Meanwhile, On the Other Side of My Family

I've been focusing quite a bit on my dad's side of the family and their Alabama stories, but something exciting recently happened on my mom's side of the family: her brother, who sent his DNA for some genetic genealogy testing, got his result back!

Take a look:

This is a map of AncestryDNA's "Ethnic Estimate" for my uncle. Essentially, they compared his DNA to that of several thousand other people native to various regions of the world, to find out with whom he had the most in common. His results show (surprise, surprise) that the vast majority of his DNA ties him to people from West and Central Africa. Here's a more specific breakdown:

AncestryDNA gets a little more specific in the overviews that they provide of each region, in terms of the particular ethnic/cultural groups you might be related to. For my uncle, this meant a possible connection to the Bamileke and Bamum peoples in Cameroon/Congo,  the Akan and Ashanti in Ivory Coast/Ghana, the Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo in Nigeria, and the Wolof, Fula, Serer and Mandinka in Senegal. However, the site is very clear that "while a prediction of genetic ethnicity from this region suggests a connection to the groups occupying this location, it is not conclusive evidence of membership to any particular tribe or ethnic group."

Overall, the general breakdown of regions makes a lot of sense when you think about the history of the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. Most enslaved Africans came from the region between Senegal and Angola, and so you can expect to find ancestry from those regions in many, if not most, African Americans who are descended from enslaved people. (Click here for a map that shows the general flow of enslaved peoples from Africa to the Americas between 1500 and 1900.)

Similarly, it's not surprising that my uncle has trace amounts of European ancestry: another legacy of slavery and the unequal balance of power that persisted afterwards is that many children were born to black mothers and white fathers. Sometimes these relationships were consensual. Quite often, they were not, or were only marginally so.

If you're interested in reading more about the Atlantic Slave Trade, some resources I've used in my other life as an educator in African American institutions include:

Okay, okay, okay, you're probably thinking, but did the DNA test connect you to any family?

Well, yes and no. One of the key reasons for taking the test was to see if we could find out who the father of my grandfather, Louis Shepherd, was. This would be my uncle's paternal grandfather. AncestryDNA's closest matches for my uncle are guesstimated as being anywhere from 4th - 6th cousins, meaning their closest shared relative would be anywhere from a 3x Great Grandparent (a great-great-great-grandparent) to a 5x Great Grandparent. And they could be related through either branch of my uncle's tree.

My next step is to connect his DNA results to my tree so that Ancestry can do its own matching and hopefully provide some hints. Once my southern sojourn is over - the countdown has begun - I'll dig in and get to work!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Uncovering a Church Affiliation: Rev. Castleberry and Thirty First Street Baptist Church

I love the social history side of genealogical research as much as I love the names, dates and events side of it. Sometimes a tidbit of information makes me run off in a different research direction, hoping to gain context that will help me understand my ancestors’ and relatives’ lives.

As I’ve been researching my Alabama family, one thing I’ve started tracking is the name of the pastor, minister or religious official who signed off on their marriage license. My hope is that through this, I’ll learn what religious institutions they were affiliated with, learn more about those institutions’ roles within my ancestors’ communities, and maybe even find religious records that mention my family. Even when I don’t find all these things, it’s interesting to look.

One name that kept coming up, especially in the Evans family marriages, was Rev. Wm. Castleberry. You can see his name below, cropped from marriage certificates for my great-great grandfather James Steven Evans and also his son, Marshall Evans.

In fact, between 1920 and 1937, he solemnized 5 weddings for the family, all of them in Birmingham:

  • My great-great-grandfather James Steven Evans to his second wife, Ella Smith (1920)
  • James’ daughter Janie Mae Evans to her first husband William Dyle (1926)
  • Janie Mae Evans to her second husband James Baker (1930)
  • James’ son Marshall Evans to his first wife Lillian Harris (1930)
  • Lillian Harris to her second husband Perry Garner (1937)

Five times in 18 years might not seem significant, but this actually means Reverend William Castleberry conducted half of all the Evans weddings known to me that took place during that time period. In the 48 years of marriage records I have for my Alabama Evans family, only 1 other pastor shows up as frequently (Rev. N. Heard – I’ll explore him in another post).

So, who was Rev. Castleberry and what church was he affiliated with? I turned to census records and city directories to figure it out. Lucky for me, he wasn’t that difficult to find!

Here’s a snippet from the 1920 Census, showing a WM Castleberry living with his wife Sylvester and their children in Birmingham, Alabama. You can see that his occupation is listed as Minister in a B. (presumably Baptist) Church.

(1920 U.S. Census for Birmingham, AL. Note: I've cut out the irrelevant middle columns.)
Ten years later, in 1930, you can again find him in the census with his family. His occupation is Preacher in a Church.

(1930 U.S. Census for Birmingham, AL. Note: I've cut out the irrelevant middle columns.)
And you can see him in the list of Clergy in the Birmingham City Directory for several years. Here’s 1935.

So, what church is he affiliated with? Let’s go back to 1920 (which, incidentally is the year of the first Evans marriage that we know of that he officiated). This time, we’re looking at the Birmingham City Directory.

Mount Nebo Baptist Church. (In fact, he’s pastor here in 1919 as well.) But, if we jump ahead, this isn’t the only church he’s affiliate with – the City Directories for 1931 and 1935 show him as being the Pastor of Thirty First Street Baptist Church.

Now, I haven’t been able to find much out about either of these churches, but what I did find was kinda cool. Thanks to the witchcraft and sorcery of the archivists at the Birmingham Public Library involving tax records, land parcel numbers and whatnot, we were able to find Thirty First Street Baptist Church in the Jefferson County Tax Map Book for the year 2000.

Or at least, we found where the church used to be. I say that because, according to Google Street View, there’s nothing there but a parking lot for Kurt’s Truck Parts.

But, check this out, when you look at the standard view for Google Maps:

Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, the name of Rev. Castleberry’s church in 1919 and 1920! So maybe they were the same church, with different names at various points in time? One way or another, I haven’t found any books, newspaper articles, or pictures to tell me more. But, again, thanks to the magicians at the Birmingham Public Library, I did find this:

This is a photo of Thirty First Street Baptist Church taken in 1939. It was taken because taxes were assessed based on physical characteristics of the building and its location – the photo is from the County Board of Equalization files. It has VOID scribbled on it because the building was torn down in 1955, making the photo irrelevant for tax purposes. But it’s still awesome for genealogical purposes!

Reverend Castleberry continues to appear in the Birmingham City Directory until 1939, though he stops being listed as a Reverend or Pastor about 1937. This is the year of the last marriage I've found that he performs for the Evans family. He passes away in October of 1940 and is laid to rest in  Shadow Lawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Birmingham's largest African American Cemetery (founded in 1889).

What was the Evans family’s relationship to Reverend Castleberry and Mt Nebo / Thirty First Street Baptist Church? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t random. Though the family had other options both in the smaller communities they lived in outside of Birmingham, and MANY additional options in the city itself, they kept coming back to him. I hope I can find more information that sheds light on this pastor, his church(es) and their role in the lives both of my ancestors and of the larger black community they served. If so, you know I’ll share it here!

Do you know something about Reverend William Castleberry? Or about Thirty First Street Baptist Church or Mt. Nebo Baptist Church? If so, please share!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Photo Friday: New Castle Cemetery

One of the stranger pleasures of genealogical research is visiting cemeteries. Having spent so much time trying to understand a person’s life – or to even find out if a person existed or was related to you at all – it can be frustrating to not know a person’s final resting place. It’s like you’ve come so close to really truly finding them, but can’t! But when you do find them, you feel like you know them a little bit better. You’re often in their community, maybe seeing sights that were part of their daily life, and even in death, you’re learning more about them based on who is laid to rest near them.

All of which is what made it so cool that my newfound Evans cousin took me not only on a tour of one of the ancestral towns, New Castle, when I visited Alabama last month, but also to the cemetery there, where the family has a small plot. So for this Photo Friday, here are a few snaps from that day: 

Spruce Street leads up to New Castle Cemetery, a small community burial ground that is still in limited use today. 

Looking back towards the entrance of the cemetery, from the Evans Family plot.

A (somewhat wonky) partial panorama looking from the corner entrance of the cemetery. The family plot can be partially seen at the far right.

My great-grandfather Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson was apparently one of about 14 children. While he is laid to rest in West Virginia, several of his siblings rest here.

Janie Mae (Evans) Smith was, I've been told, the oldest of the Evans children. She is the one with whom Steve and his brother Henry were living in 1930, and it is with her descendants that I connected on my recent trip to Alabama. She shared family stories freely with her granddaughter, and it is thanks to them both that I am able to learn things that the documents themselves can't tell. 

Janie Mae had two children with her first husband, William Dyle. This is their daughter, Veola Dyle Rodgers.

A close-up of the photo from Veola's headstone. She was James and Laura Ann Evans' granddaughter, and my great-grandfather's niece.

Janie Mae and William Dyle's son, Coleman Dyle. Below "US ARMY," his headstone reads:

SEP   14   1923
JAN  13   1990

This is the marker for Sarah (Evans) Paymon, Steve and Janie Mae's sister. She and her husband Archie lived across the street from each other near a church at the top of a hill in New Castle.

Sarah's husband Archie Paymon rests nearby. They were married on November 18, 1923, according to Jefferson County, AL records. Several of their children eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan in search of better economic opportunities.

This is the headstone for Marshall Evans, another of the Evans siblings. Following in his father's footsteps, he became a minister, and was known to some of the family as "Uncle Bishop." He is one half of the "two brothers married two sisters" duo, my great-grandfather Steve being the other brother, Steve's wife, my great-grandmother Beatrice Harris, being one of the sisters, and Lillian Harris being the other. Though they did not stay together, Marshall and Lillian had a daughter together, and her descendants now live primarily in Illinois.

Visiting this cemetery may actually have been the best part of my trip to Alabama. I am so grateful to my cousin for making this happen, and I'm looking forward to hanging out with her again!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wedding Wednesday: James Steven Evans and Laura Ann Scruggs

Being in the South for the past few months has provided me with both a great opportunity and great motivation to learn more about the lives of my paternal grandmother’s parents, Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson and Beatrice Harris, and even about their parents. For my most recent Wedding Wednesday post, I shared what I knew about the marriage of Beatrice’s parents, my great-great-grandparents Ardenia Jackson and Solomon Harris. This week, I’d like to share what I know about the marriage of Steve Evans/ Theodore Johnson’s parents, my great-great-grandparents Laura Ann Scruggs and James Steven Evans. Given how much I’ve been writing about their son, they may already feel familiar to you, but hopefully this adds some more context to their lives.

(And, first things first: although I’ve referred to James Steven as Steve or Steve Sr. in previous posts, I am now shifting to calling him James Steven or James because this, my cousin tells me, is the name he went by with his family, though official documents list him as Steve, Steven or Stephen.)

Originally located at the Montgomery County, AL Probate Court, this version is from the AL Dept. of Archives & History.

This is the official marriage license and return for James and Laura Ann. You saw a similar one for Solomon and Ardenia Harris. And as with Solomon and Ardenia, there is also a second, decorative certificate!

Located at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, AL.
What do you all notice about when they were married? Look at that date!

(Credit at Bottom of Page)
December 24th, 1901 - Christmas Eve! Now, I can’t make any definitive statements about the significance of this date to them in particular, whether it was mere convenience or chosen specifically, but Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century were definitely captured by the magic of Christmas. Gift-giving and Christmas cards were popular, Virginia O’Hanlon had famously received an affirmative answer to her question “Is there a Santa Claus?” from the New York Sun in 1897, and by 1900, it’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans had a Christmas Tree. So it was absolutely a special time to get married.

It was also just one year after the turn of the century. James and Laura Ann had recently said goodbye to the final century during which chattel slavery was legal in the U.S., and here they are, embarking on a life together, probably with dreams of the future their children might be able to experience. I’m probably romanticizing this, but really, imagine the promise of this moment. (Of course, by contrast, the decade beginning with 1891 - as in, the decade leading up to their marriage - saw the greatest number of African American lynchings out of all the decades for which the Tuskegee Institute tallied them (1882 – 1968). 1900 saw 106 alone and 1901 saw 105.)


In any case, James and Laura Ann were married on December 24th, 1901 in Oak Grove, Montgomery County, Alabama, by Reverend. J.T. Golson.

So what do we know about James and Laura Ann’s life together? Well, it was certainly filled with hard work: in the only census record we have where they appear together, both are listed as farm laborers and are working for wages. Given this and they fact that they are renting the land on which they live, plus their location in Alabama’s Black Belt (named originally for the rich, black soil, and not for the presence of African Americans), it’s likely that they were either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Both of these groups of workers were generally individuals with little material resources to their names who worked land owned by others in return for the ability to keep some portion of the crop.

The Evans Family lived in Dooley, AL at least between 1910 and 1915. Credit Below.
(This was generally an exploitative system that left most sharecroppers and tenant farmers – of all racial backgrounds – impoverished, as they often had to buy on credit their necessities for farming and for life from the people for whom they worked. When the credit came due annually, they owed money, signed up for another year of working and thus the cycle continued.) As late as 1918, when James registered for the draft, he was still working as a farm laborer; his employer was an L.D. Zuber in Montgomery County.

We also know that Steve and Laura built a large family together – according to my Alabama cousins (so helpful!) – they had 14 children together.

Sadly, their time together was cut short, when Laura Ann was injured in a tragic accident. As my cousin (their great-granddaughter, who heard it from their oldest daughter) tells it, while Laura Ann was expecting another child, she saw that one of the family’s hogs or pigs had escaped its enclosure and was running around the farm. As she tried to corner and return it, it kicked her in the stomach. The injury was too serious for either Laura Ann or the baby to survive.

James Steven was left with a gaggle of children from teenagers to toddlers to take care of, and no wife. We know that in 1930 he was a traveling Methodist minister and my cousin says that he was already living this life when his wife died, which would have made the situation even more difficult. (Let’s also acknowledge the difficulty of Laura Ann’s life with all of these children while he was traveling!) It is perhaps no surprise, then, that James remarried fairly quickly – he wed Ella Smith in 1920, and then Florence Donovan, in 1924. He also moved from Montgomery County to Jefferson County, at whose heart was and is Birmingham, with its lure of coal mining and steel jobs that paid better than farming work.  

I wish I knew more about James and Laura Ann’s life together. I have no guesses on how they met and no concrete information about their lives before 1901. I do know that they have descendants spread out across the U.S. and that among them are students, college graduates, educators, lawyers, civil servants, businesspeople, medical professionals, information technology professionals, clergy, and more. When you think about the path of opportunities that lead from farming and coal mining to the present, that’s a pretty cool thing, indeed!

Do you have any pictures of James Steven and Laura Ann (Scruggs) Evans, or of their children? Do you have more information about their life together? Please share! 

Image Credit: Cover art for Dear Santa Claus, by Various Authors. Published by By W. B. Conkey Company in 1901 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Map Credit: This is cropped from the Map of Montgomery County, AL created for the Board of Revenue by J.M. Garrett and published in Chicago by Rand McNally & Co in 1901. Full map located here and the original source is the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Timeline Tuesday: Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson

If you’ve been reading KINterested over the past two months, you know that during my time in the South (I’ve been wintering in the awesome city of New Orleans) I’ve been exploring the lives of my Evans and Harris family ancestors in Alabama. One person whose life I’ve been particularly digging into is that of my great-grandfather Theodore Johnson, my father’s mother’s father, who was born Steve Evans and later changed his name. You can find posts here and here and here.

I promised at the end of that series that I would post a timeline of what I currently know about him. Then, on a research trip to Alabama, I was (amazingly!) able to meet the granddaughter of one of Steve/Theodore’s sisters! Through my conversations with her, I can now flesh in a little bit more of his timeline. I’ll continue to update this post with information and links to other posts that touch on specific moments in his life as I learn and write more.

1913, April 15Steve is born in rural Montgomery County, Alabama to James Steven
Evans and Laura Ann (Scruggs) Evans. He will be one of about 14 siblings. (I’m still learning birth dates and birth order.)

1918, September: His parents James Steven and Laura Ann are still living in
Montgomery County, Alabama, where his dad is a farm laborer working for a farmer named L.D. Zuber.

Between 1918 and 1920: When Steve is between 5 and 7 years old, his mother passes
away. As I learned it, Laura Ann was kicked in the stomach while chasing a pig or hog that had gotten loose on the family farm. She was pregnant at the time, and unfortunately the injury was so bad that neither she nor the baby survived.

(The story dates this as happening closer to 1914, but Steve’s father’s World War II Draft Registration Card states that Laura Ann is still alive in September 1918. I do not yet have a certificate of death or other record to confirm a date.)

October 1920: Steve is 7 years old when his dad remarries. While his dad and step-
mother now live in Jefferson County where his dad is mining coal, Steve doesn’t appear in the 1920 Census in their household, so it’s not clear if he’s living with them or with someone else. Perhaps he’s with family, either back in Montgomery County or in another home in Jefferson County.

1930: Steve, about 17 years old now, and his also teenage brother Henry, are living in the
household of their older sister Janie Mae and her family in Majestic, Jefferson County, Alabama. Steve is listed as being able to read and write, but he’s not in school – he’s working as a coal miner, as are most of the other men living in this community.

Steve’s father and his third wife Florence (I don’t know what happened to Ella) are also living in Jefferson County, but his dad is no longer farming or mining, he is a Methodist minister. Family lore says that he traveled often throughout the state and was rarely home, which may explain why Steve and Henry are living with Janie Mae.

1933, August 15: Steve marries Beatrice Harris, who lives in Majestic with her mother,
sister and son, Robert. Like Steve, Beatrice was also born in Montgomery, and again like Steve, her family had also made a break from farming by 1920. Both families were probably affected by the devastation of cotton crops in Alabama by the boll weevil during the 19-teens. Montgomery County was hard hit and families who could sought out other work, including in the cities (like Beatrice’s dad who took work in the city of Montgomery) and in the coal mines of Jefferson County (like Steve’s dad).

1930s: Steve and Beatrice grow their family. Their oldest daughter is named after Steve’s
mother, Laura Ann. Their first few children are born in Alabama, but their last girls, born 1938 and 1940, will be born in Ohio.

Steve’s siblings are also getting married between the 1920s and 1940s. Some stay in Jefferson County, some move back to (or never left) Montgomery, and some eventually travel to Detroit, Michigan.

1930s: According to family lore, Steve gets into a fight with a white man and kills him
(in self defense, as the story is told). The local Ku Klux Klan immediately sets out after Steve and he flees to Ohio, changing his name to Theodore Johnson in the process. He will take years to return to Alabama to visit, and only does so with assistance from his brother, under cover of darkness and a veil of secrecy, fearing continued harassment from the KKK.

1937, July: Steve, now Theodore, has put his Alabama coal mining experience to use by
finding work with the Powhatan Mining Company, in Powhatan Point, Ohio.

Early 1940s: Theodore and Beatrice separate and divorce, temporarily throwing
Beatrice’s life and that of their children into financial turmoil. The children are split up between family and the state (one daughter lives with Beatrice’s sister Lillian in Kewanee, Illinois, another daughter and son spend time with Beatrice’s mother and step-father back in Alabama, at one point some are temporarily put into an orphanage) until Beatrice is able to get back on her feet.

1941, Spring: After a major labor agreement between the United Mine Workers
Association (a union for coal miners) and various coal mining companies expires at the end of March, hundreds of Ohio Coal Miner go on strike. They are back at work by the end of April. However, during the time that they are out, they – including Theodore Johnson – apply for unemployment benefits. Their claims are approved at first, but the coal mining companies protest. So begins a long court case that makes it to the Ohio Supreme Court and eventually ends in May 1946 with the coal miners (including Theodore Johnson) losing their final appeal.

1940s: Theodore moves to West Virginia and probably continues to work as a coal miner
until retirement. He becomes involved with another woman, to whom several additional children are born.

1950s and 60s: Theodore becomes a grandfather many times over, as his children marry
and expand their families.

1963?: According to family lore, Theodore’s father James Steven Evans passes away in

1986, October 26: Theodore passes away in West Virginia. He is laid to rest at Restlawn
Memorial Gardens, in Bluewell, WV.