Unlocking Your Family’s Past: A Beginner’s Guide to Ancestry Research

Discovering and exploring your ancestry can be a fascinating and meaningful journey. In our latest WordPress post, we provide novice genealogists with the essential tools and tips to get started in ancestry research. From navigating through online databases to organizing family information, we uncover the key elements for a successful quest into your family’s past. As we highlight the advantages of tracing your roots, we also showcase the distinctive qualities that make ancestry research a fulfilling and rewarding experience. Unlock your family’s history and begin your journey today with our comprehensive guide on how to get started in ancestry research. Uncover your family’s past and trace your roots with ease – learn how to kickstart your journey in ancestry research with WordPress. From building your family tree to finding historical records, this post offers practical tips and essential tools to help you dive into your genealogy. Unlock a wealth of information and connections, and embark on a fascinating quest to discover your identity and heritage. Don’t miss out on this must-read guide for all those curious about their family history.

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Babysitting for a song

Working in the Right Place, Right time

From her top hit, Loco-Motion: https://open.spotify.com/album/7eFaSwgKnu9uBoUQ5A58jv

Eva Narcissus Boyd was a teenager who was a babysitter to the young child of the Brill Building songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin. They heard her sing and also loved her dancing. “Little Eva” was asked by the team to sing a demo of their anticipated song for Dee Dee Sharp.

Eva was so good that King and Goffin decided to release her first song, “The Loco-Motion,” and it became a #1 pop hit and sold a million copies in 1962. She ended her nanny career and became a singer. Sadly, her entertainment career suffered many setbacks after the popular song.

Good Genes Genealogy tip: Ask your relatives whether they know of any ancestors who traded one job or career for another one. Find out why and how they chose to work in certain jobs

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Thoughts on slavery — 1854 or 2023?

There is an active U.S. discussion about whether African Americans benefited from the horrific ills of bondage and slavery. A Florida governor who is a candidate for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination for U.S. president is proudly touting such in his state education’s rewriting of history. His appointees are doubling down on the claim that there were productive, career benefits from the skills utilized by African Americans who were enslaved.

This newspaper clipping from a century+ ago is among the documents that mirror today’s comments from proponents of the rewritten history that slavery benefited African Americans.

To all ancestry researchers, search the newspapers for articles in the states where your ancestors resided. It is great insight in what policies and practices they endured while being subjected to the cruelties of forced, unpaid servitude.

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“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s priceless speech on July 5, 1852 as depicted by James Earl Jones

He was photographed more than Mark Twain and President Abraham Lincoln. He was born a slave and gained freedom, the skills of reading and writing, became a journalist, photographer, orator, author, abolitionist, father, husband and so much more.

With his earned standing in the United States and worldwide abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass’s words are heeded then and today.

Happy Fourth of July to all. Celebrate it by hearing the sobering and engaging words of Frederick Douglass through the voice of famed, award-winning Actor James Earl Jones. You can download the video or audio versions. Here’s the transcript of this broadcast:


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, in this special broadcast, we begin with the words of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movement. On July 5th, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?” He was addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.

This is James Earl Jones reading the historic address during a performance of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. It was co-edited by Howard Zinn. The late great historian introduced the address.

HOWARD ZINN: Frederick Douglass, once a slave, became a brilliant and powerful leader of the anti-slavery movement. In 1852, he was asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: [read by James Earl Jones] Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

AMY GOODMAN: James Earl Jones, reading the words of Frederick Douglass.

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Part Two: The rest of the short story about the U.S. freedom order in Texas

Editor’s note: The first part of this blog was published on the Good Genes Genealogy sites two days ago. Here is the rest of the preview of our upcoming Juneteenth audiobook.

General Granger was assigned a difficult task that became worse for him after delivering the freedom message in Texas. According to historians, General Granger “became extremely unpopular among many whites in the state of Texas. He was blackballed and ostracized by many Whites, so much so, that after only six months in command of the Department of Texas, Granger was relieved of his command on August 6, 1865. On October 31, 1865, he was placed in command of the District of New Mexico.”

General Granger’s health also declined after his transfer in command. Source: https://seattlemedium.com/gen-gordon-granger-the-man-behind-the-juneteenth-message-of-freedom/

Texas came a long way from being the last state to recognize the Emancipation Proclamation to becoming the first state in 1980 to declare Juneteenth as an official holiday. With the determined, multi-year lobbying effort by famous Texan Opal Lee, in 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the nation’s official holiday of Juneteenth.

Several miles north of Galveston near the Navasota River in Groesbeck, Limestone County, Texas, General Granger’s Order No. 3 reached the homestead. The Pleasant Retreat Plantation was owned by Logan Stroud, a slave owner who inherited the property upon the death of his father, Ethan. The father and son had acquired plantations that resulted in 5,000 acres used for raising cotton, corn, oats, wheat, hogs, sheep and it served as a ranch. At the time of Civil War, the younger Stroud was the largest slave holder in Limestone County, owning more than 100 slaves. It was recorded that he had 150 slaves on the day now known as Juneteenth.

According to the property records, the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Limestone County from the porch of the Pleasant Retreat Plantation, on Saturday, June 19, 1865.

On Saturday, June 19, 1865, in Limestone County, Texas, plantation owner Logan Stroud stood on the front porch of this house to tell more than 150 of his enslaved workers that they were free. | Photo: Historic American Building Survey. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

Newly freed Blacks in Texas set the tone for celebrating the early days of June 19th with recognitions of their former lives and the memories of their loved ones who endured enslavement. However, there were some Blacks who thought the Juneteenth and Emancipation Day celebrations should put the awful days of slavery behind and instead, look forward with celebrations of hope and aspirations. During the years of Jim Crow, Juneteenth celebrations were confined to the Black communities from coast to coast in the United States.

The photos (see below) are from Mrs. Grace Murray Stephenson, a lady who recorded her June 19, 1900 day of celebration. She sold her diary to the San Francisco Chronicle, which printed her memories.

While awaiting the arrival of the Good Genes Genealogy’s Juneteenth audiobook, learn more about the June 19th holiday and the other “Black” holiday, August 1st. Check out our e-book that is available on all book buy sites.

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In honor of our ancestral Mother’s Days

In the words of our family’s maternal matriarch, the late Lou Edna Wilks Robinson, “every day is Mother’s Day.”

Born in 1892 as the oldest daughter born in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, to Melissa Catherine Gray and Robert Wilkes, our “Grandma Robinson” was the glue that kept our family together.

We’ve often wondered how our ancestral mothers were able to accomplish so much in their lives. Except for Grandma Robinson’s birth to two children, including our maternal grandmother, Mary Helen Wilks Owen Douthy, most mothers ‘in her day’ bore several children. Midwives brought babies, especially those of African American heritage, into this world. Indoor plumbing was nonexistent for our ancestral mothers. They grew food, drew well from waters, cooked, cleaned and managed the households. They raised other people’s children, they were our teachers, loyal church members and builders of great legacies admist the harsh societal conditions that often pushed our ancestral mothers to the least known positions.

Yet, our ancestral mothers rarely complained about their fates. Instead, they often rejoiced about the present and future that always included the achievements — known and unknown — of their children and lineage.

We honor you, ancestral mothers.

Official start of Mother’s Day in the USA

In 1914, a few years before the birth of our maternal Grandmother Mary Helen, the nation received an official declaration from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, to honor mothers on the second Sunday in May. The recognition began simple enough: To honor mothers in celebration of peace.

The origins of Mother’s Day as celebrated in the United States date back to the 19th century. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

These clubs later became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873 Howe campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Other early Mother’s Day pioneers include Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist who inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. The duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering, meanwhile, both worked to organize a Mothers’ Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some have even called Hering “the father of Mothers’ Day.”


A few current-day Mother’s Day facts

  • The honoring of mothers has reached a feverish commercial pitch with an estimated $36 billion being allocated in U.S. receipts in 2023.
  • There are approximately 43.5 million women who are considered mothers in the United States.
  • More than 100 global countries celebrate their mothers on various days on the calendar.
  • The white carnation is the official flower of Mother’s Day.
  • Mother’s Day is the busiest day for restaurants in the U.S.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Looking for “gold” in your genealogy pursuits?

Colored farmer find $16,000 buried in land in 1897

Always keep searching for your ancestors and their stories. Here’s one about someone’s “colored” ancestor, D.H. Johnson, who was farming in February 1897. He hit hard ground while plowing a field near Hogansville, GA. He kept removing the layers of stone until he located what was estimated to be $16,000 in coins, including some from foreign soil.

Today, that would amount to approximately $600,000 according to government calculations. According to this newspaper clipping, Johnson placed the money in the bank. “…the theory is that whoever owned the money hid it out until some secure time, when they would look for it again” the article reported.

Takeaways for Genealogy Researchers

There are likely several ‘pots of gold’ hidden in the earth or within walls or in between mattresses by individuals hiding their assets from others for various reasons.

  1. Follow your spiritual intuition and recall conversations, other memories from your ancestors.
  2. Act on it with a general sense of wisdom. For instance, if you are pointed in a certain direction, believe it.
  3. Enjoy the journey as it will always yield surprising results.

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The DNA and Mental Health Benefits in Genealogy and Ancestry research

Join us for the free, final weekend workshop

The Good Genes Genealogy Services duo and Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center team up for the last weekend of the free genealogy workshops. The hour-long session is designed to inspire the beginners to seasoned genealogy researchers, and provide everyone with the tools to dig deeper into their families’ colorful histories.

Join us, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023!

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How to interview your family members

It’s tough to ask tough questions

Have you ever wanted to ask questions of your relatives and backed away because it was not “a good time?” We have.

It’s time to get busy. Grab a notepad, make sure your audio and video recorders are sufficiently stocked with new batteries, put on your listening ears and initiate your family research.

It may be uncomfortable for some relatives to open us. That’s natural. Learning what to ask and who to ask questions of, are key to your success. Before you get knee deep in researching family history, make a list of your prospective interview subjects by simply asking, “do you mind if I interview you (or discuss with you) about our family history?”

Once you get to “yes,” you are on your way to discovering the gems and rough spots in your family.

How to handle interviews

You should seek information from everyone in your family, friends, neighbors, clergy, co-workers of your loved one. Whoever is willing to open up and share, are great informants.

  1. Often the oldest person you can speak to in your family, is the best source for robust information about your loved ones.
  2. Daughters and sons of elderly parents are often great sources of information to aid in your genealogy research.
  3. Neighbors, cousins and other relatives of all ages are great sources of information. Our maternal great grandfather’s delayed birth certificates lists a relative and neighbor as informants for Eugene Gibson Owen, Sr. to obtain his official documentation some 56 years after his birth. See below:
Great Grandfather Eugene G. Owen, Sr.’s delayed birth certificate from the state of Tennessee. He was 56 years old when received.

Who should your interview?

  1. Ask your interviewees if they are comfortable being recorded by video and audio devices, or other means. Negotiate for your best mutual benefits.
  2. This is not the time to pretend you are Oprah Winfrey or another celebrated interviewer who may garner as much attention as the interview subject.
  3. Remember that some matters are touchy subjects. Be sensitive to the questions that may not immediately or ever yield you answers from the person(s) you interview.
  4. Be humble. Humility goes a long way in family discussions.
  5. Listen. Listen. Hear them. Listen. Don’t overtalk your interview subject.
  6. Do not judge their comments. Their comments may not agree with today’s understanding of similar situations. For instance, some of our relatives stressed the importance of being silent against stiff situations involving racist behaviors towards them. Some interviewers may prefer to speak up, or vice versa in such situations.
  7. Organization matters. Establish your goals in interviewing your loved ones through a series of inquiries you have developed out of natural curiosity and “things” you may have heard or been told through family grapevines.
  8. Be flexible. Your established goals to glean certain information may not be forthcoming. In some cases, you may have to adapt your interview collection methods to meet your relatives where they are. For instance, I provided one of my loved ones with the opportunity to record their story. He mailed the cassette recordings to me. I had to locate a cassette player to download the important family data.

Schedule time to meet

The more your relatives age, the more questions arise about what the loved ones know that can add value to your family’s history.

  1. Schedule a mutually convenient time to hold a virtual or in person meeting.
  2. The interviewer should make the request and establish the approximate length of the meeting. In person meetings tend to be longer than online meetings. Allow for the extra time.
  3. Plan for multiple meetings to gain a wide berth of information about your family.

Location matters

  1. Where you meet is key to the success of the information you obtain.
  2. In person meetings should also be guided by where the interviewee wishes to dish out the desired family information.
  3. In some cases, the interviewer may wish to recommend the location for the discussion. For instance, I asked my father to take the most comfortable chair in my home to begin our series of discussions. My maternal grandmother preferred a lunch date. My maternal grandfather was confined to a skilled nursing facility. That’s where I retrieved, we spent three days discussing our family.

What you should ask

There are myriad of questions to ask your loved ones in anticipation of great information about your family. One half of the Good Genes Genealogy team — Ann Wead Kimbrough — is a career journalist who’s interviewed perhaps thousands of individuals.

  1. Start with the basics in questions and allow it to build from there. The basic questions are “who, what, when, where, why and how?” Samples of what to objtain from your planned family discussions are found on the information sheets that Good Genes Genealogy Services has provided via its Genealogy Store.
  2. The questions provided in our e-workbook that was designed for the two workshops held on Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, 2023 in partnership with Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center, are designed to get at the core of the results needed to effectively conduct genealogy and ancestry research.

Interpreting results

It’s time to edit.

  1. Download your interviews onto another device as soon after your interviews as possible. In journalism circles, we were encouraged to review our reporting and begin writing while the information “was still hot.”
  2. Add notations in the margins of your written notes, or highlight your online reporting, or mark the time codes on your broadcast recording equipment when key points are made.
  3. Check out the information that you obtained. It is easy to get addresses or street names incorrect by your informants. There are plenty of historical maps, street directories, church records, ancestry, governmental and other data available to check the facts.
  4. In some cases, check back with the informants after interviews to help clarify the matters discussed.
  5. Produce your results in formats that are comfortable with you and family members. There are several genealogy books, other guides and even family Bibles that are great sources of recording the information from your well-earned interviews.

Happy researching!

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