Author Archive

Freedmen’s Bureau Records Project

Would you like to help family historians and genealogist expand their family tree?  You can by participating in the Freedmen’s Bureau Records Project and help to  index nearly 4 million records to make them searchable online.

Freedmen’s Bureau records are a treasure trove for family historians and genealogist researching their African American ancestors.  The Freedmen’s Bureau was created in 1865 to assist formerly enslaved individuals and war refugees become productive members of society. The Bureau reunited families, opened schools, managed hospitals, provided food and clothing ,as well as, offered marriages certificates for couples who were cohabitating as husband and wife. The Bureau’s records are on microfilm and contain information on an estimated four million individuals.  The majority of the records are not indexed and therefore are very difficult to access.

The records are the property of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  FamilySearch purchased the microfilms and has rights to digitally publish and index them. They have partnered with several organizations for a national project to index the Freedmen’s Bureau Records. It will take tens of thousands of volunteers to complete the indexing in the desired 18 months.

I am participating in the Freedmen’s Bureau Project and am urging you to do the same.  Indexing is fairly simple and any amount of time you can give will be valuable.    Even if you can only give a few minutes a day, the time adds up and together we can accomplish this task.   Please join me in helping to make these important records searchable online.

To learn more about the project visit

Here is a video from the site explaining the value of the project.

Research Tips from My Genealogy Buddy Robyn Smith

I have written about my genealogy buddy, Robyn Smith and her exciting family research in several of my posts.  Robyn is the author of the popular genealogy blog, Reclaiming Kin where she uses her research as a tool to show others how to  research their family history.

Robyn is a great genealogy buddy because she takes her research seriously.  She is a stickler for using the proper methodology and doing due diligence to research family history.  Robyn is an inspiration to many in the genealogy community.

Reclaiming Kin

She recently published a book titled, The Best of Reclaiming Kin: Helpful Tips On Researching Your Roots, with some of her most informative blog post.  Her book is a valuable addition to the personal library of anyone who is interested in researching their family history

I urge you to visit her blog and see for yourself.  Your research will be greatly enhanced by the knowledge she shares.

Protecting and Expanding Your Family Tree on

For many years, I was reluctant to build a family tree online because I wanted to protect the privacy of family members and control access to information on my tree. When I learned that I could use privacy settings to control access to my tree, I decided to put my tree on

I only put deceased individuals on my tree and used the ‘Private’ privacy setting to prevent other subscribers from viewing information on my tree. However, basic information (name, birth year, and birthplace) about deceased individuals is displayed in search results. If a person wants to view my tree, they must contact me anonymously through the messaging service.  You can learn more about privacy setting and decide what is best for you.

An added benefit of putting my tree online was I was able to take advantage of hints.  This feature uses information from your family tree to suggest possible matches between people on the tree and historical records and/or other family trees.

I recently solved a genealogy mystery thanks to a hint from  I have traced my Shakespeare family back to the 1840’s where Sancho and Lucinda Shakespeare and their children were enslaved by Elijah Wigglesworth in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.  Over the years I have made considerable progress on expanding my Shakespeare family tree but I had several people whose trail went cold.

Richard Shakespeare was one of those people.  He was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1899 to Richard Shakespeare Sr and Molly/Mary Bailey. I believe his mother must have died when he was young because after 1900 he and his brother, James, lived in Caroline County, Virginia with their father’s brother, John Henry Shakespeare, and John’s wife, Sarah Ann (Sallie) Ferguson.   Their father remained in Baltimore, MD where he died in 1927.

The latest information I had on Richard Shakespeare Jr. was from the 1920’s. He was listed in the 1920 Caroline County census with his aunt, uncle and brother. I could not locate any information on Richard after the 1920s.

Last month, I received an email from with a hint for my Shakespeare Family Tree.  I clicked on the link which took me to Richard Shakespeare’s death certificate.  From this document I learned that Richard lived in Beaver County, Pennsylvania and his wife’s name was Jannie.

Richard Shakespeare Death Certificate

Richard Shakespeare’s Death Certificate
The Key to Expanding my Shakespeare Tree


Armed with this new information I began to search for Richard in Beaver County, Pennsylvania and located information on Richard, his wife and their children.  Using other hints, I attempted to locate and contact some of Richard’s living descendants.

I used resources outside to obtain death notices for Richard, his wife and their children. I learned from their death notices they were members of Love-Hope Baptist Church and wrote to the church to see if they had any information on Richard Shakespeare and his family.  The church was gracious enough to forward my letter to Richard Shakespeare’s great granddaughter who contacted me.  We recently met and exchanged information. They shared this picture of Richard Shakespeare with me.


Richard Shakespeare Jr

Richard Shakespeare Jr


Thanks to a hint from, I was able to solve the mystery of what happened to Richard Shakespeare, expand my Shakespeare Family Tree and meet some new cousins!!.


 Descendants of Sancho and Lucinda Shakespeare

 Richard was the grandson of Sancho and Lucinda’s son Beverly. In addition to Beverly, they had seven other children:  Eliza, Richmond, Louisa, Nancy, Matilda, John, Martha.  The family was separated in 1845 when their slaveowner, Elijah Wigglesworth, estate was settled and his property was distributed among his wife and children

Eliza Shakespeare

I have not located any information on Eliza. I am not sure if she used the Shakespeare surname after slavery.  She may have been taken to Tennessee when her slave owner, Andrew J. Wigelsworth, moved to the state.

Richmond and Nancy

Richmond, Nancy and Matilda were enslaved by Jefferson Flippo of Caroline County, Virginia when Almira W. Wigelsworth married him. Nancy had a daughter named, Susan. The three of them escaped from Jefferson Flippo in 1862 but I have been unable to determine what happened to them. . I am not sure if they used the Shakespeare surname after slavery.



Matilda Shakespeare were enslaved by Jefferson Flippo of Caroline County, Virginia when Almira W. Wigelsworth married him. She had several children during slavery.  One of them was John Henry Lewis.  .  I met the wife of John Henry Lewis’s youngest son who shard this picture with me.


John Henry Lewis (front row center)  and Family

John Henry Lewis (front row center) and Family


After slavery Matlida married Dingo Rollins and they had several children.  Two of their children were Rachel and Marry Rollins.  I met Mary’s granddaughter who share these pictures of Matilda’s daughters with me.

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin's Daughter- Mary Rollins Jones

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin’s Daughter – Mary Rollins Jones

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin's Daughte -  Rachel Rollins Fergueson

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin’s Daughte
Rachel Rollins Fergueson











Louisa Shakespeare

Louisa married William Woolfolk.  They are my 2nd great grandparents. They had several children, Overton, my great grandfather, and Susan.  I have not located a picture of Overton. I located Susan’s granddaughter who shared this picture with me.

Susan Woolfolk Waugh

Susan Woolfolk Waugh

Beverly Shakespeare

Beverly Shakespeare had several wives and several children.  John Herbert Shakespeare is also a descendant of Beverly.

John Herbert Shakespeare and his daughter Shirely Jean

John Herbert Shakespeare and
his daughter Shirely Jean


John Shakespeare

John is listed in the 1870 census with his parents.  I have not located any other information about him.

Martha Shakespeare

I wrote a blog post about Martha.

Conflicting Military Information – Mystery Solved

My grandfather, Sylvester Roy Woodfork Sr, was a World War I veteran.  In my 2011 post titled The Importance of Performing Thorough Research I mentioned the discrepancy between the family oral history regarding his military service and the information contained on the military records I received from the National Archives.  As I continued to locate more information on my grandfather’s military service I become more confused because the information on one set of documents was different from the information on another set of documents.

I sent a letter to the National Archives to see if they could help me understand why these documents had conflicting information.  I recently received an explanation.  This blog post demonstrates the importance of locating the original documents when performing research and explains why there may be a discrepancy in a person’s military records.

Below is a summary of the various documents with information on my grandfather’s military unit:

  •  The NA Form 13164 (which can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act) provided by the National Archives in St Louis indicates he served in 52nd Company 13th Battalion 153rd DB Camp Dix, NJ.
  • A Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge dated December 11, 1958 indicates he served in Battery F, 351st Field Artillery.
  • The original discharge papers that were issued on March 15, 1918 indicate he was a Private in 52nd Co 13th Bn 153rd DB Camp Dix, NJ.
  • The Remarks section of the enlistment record that accompany the original discharge indicate Service 351st fa 1/13/18, 52nd Co, 12th Bn, 153rd DB 2/22/19

Below is the answer I received from the Archivist explaining why these document contained different information:

There are usually two units found on different military separation forms. When in the service a veteran would have served with one main unit for the majority of the war. In this case Mr. Woodfork spent the majority of his service with the 351st Field Artillery as of July 13, 1918.

Towards the end of the war, or when a veteran was to be discharged/separated from service, each veteran was sent to a certain unit or place (in this case Camp Dix)  that was specifically utilized for discharge or out processing. In this case, on February 22, 1919 Mr. Woodfork was transferred to the 52nd Co for out processing to be discharged from the service. This notation is shown in the enlistment record notes in which you referred.

The difference in the documents issued later depends on who and what criteria was used.  The certificate in lieu of discharge and transcript of military record was issued directly from the Army in 1958. The Army was putting the emphasis of his service on the unit it which he spent the most time and that was really the primary unit in which he served.

The Information Releasable Under the Freedom of Information Act was issued by the National Archives and Records Administration, National Personnel Records Center. They tend to list the final unit, the out processing unit, as the place and unit of separation.

If you have a question about research or records obtained from the National Archives, you can contact them by completing an Inquire Form on the National Archives website.

Historical and Genealogy Gems Saved from the Dump

Over the past years I have cleaned out the homes of several family members.  All of the homes had been occupied for almost fifty years or more.  A few of the homes had been the residence of several generations of the family. In all instances the person’s home was full of what many would consider “junk”. Before having everything hauled to the dump, I cleaned out the homes and was able to preserve numerous artifacts that documented the history of various institutions in the community. I decided to share some of the items in a blog post as a reminder of how we all can take an active role in preserving local history.  I plan to donate the items to various archives and historical societies in the community.


People’s Congregational Church

Church bulletins

Church bulletins

Notebooks containing the records of the deaconess board

Notebooks containing the records of the Deaconess Board

Letter to Deaconess Board

Cards, notes and letters sent to the Deaconess Board


Book of selected sermons by Pastor A. Knighton Stanley, Pastor

Book of selected sermons by Pastor A. Knighton Stanley, Pastor


Deaconess Board and guests

Deaconess Board and guests



District of Columbia Public Schools


Terrell Junior High School 1947 Newsletter

Terrell Junior High School 1947 Newsletter

Sousa Jr High Commencement Program 1972

Sousa Junior High School 1972 Commencement Program












Cardoza High School MidYear Class 1944

Cardoza High School MidYear Class 1944


District of Columbia Fire Department

The Vocal Alarm Newsletter

Retired Firefighter’s Association of Washington DC Newsletter

Retired Fireman's Association Directory

Retired Fireman’s Association Directory


DC Fire Department Engine Company No 13 - February 1954

DC Fire Department Engine Company No 13 – February 1954


Howard University

The Bison - Howard University Yearbook 1949

The Bison – Howard University Yearbook 1949

Howard University Pendant




Howard University Graduation - June 3, 1949

Howard University Graduation – June 3, 1949








DC Youth Orchestra Program

DC Youth Orchestra Button 1969 DC Youth Orchestra Program 1972

Genealogy Gems in Historical Newspapers

Newspapers are a genealogy goldmine. Birth, death and marriages announcements provide information on major family events. Graduation announcements list the names of students who graduated from the local schools. Advertisements provide information on businesses or other entrepreneurial activities. I found several advertisements for pool halls that were owned by my 2nd great grand uncle, Charles Cutch, in the 1890’s, as well as, an advertisement for a very interesting “bathing apparatus” he was selling in 1919.


Source:  The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6.  Chronicling America. Web. 1May 2014.

Source: The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6. Chronicling America. Web. Date Month Year Accessed. May 2014


Source:  The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6.  Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Source: The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6. Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.


1919 07 04 - Bathing Apperatus Ad-short

Source: The Washington Post July 4, 1919 (Washington, DC) Page 10. Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Local news columns and editorials provide information on various activities where an ancestor lived. I found numerous news articles on my grandfather and his activities in various social and community organizations. There were also several poems he had written, as well as, a letter that he had written to the editor.

Sometimes a news article may be written about an ancestor. I learned that in 1894 my great-grandfather, Overton Woodfork, was stabbed and had his throat slashed by a drunken newspaper reporter who lived in the flats where Overton worked as an elevator operator. I also learned that in 1949, my 2nd great grand aunt, Ethel Cutch, was hit by a bus while she was crossing the street and died a few days later of her injuries.

Source: The Evening Star January 7, 1894 (Washington, DC) Page 8. Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.


Source: The Washington Post April 21, 1949 (Washington, DC) Page B1.ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.


I found several news articles about Charles Cutch that gave insight into his business activities and his run-ins with the law. In 1897, Charles owned a store at 5th and K Street Street NW in Washington, DC. The store was robbed one night when someone smashed the windows and stole some tobacco and four pounds of candy. Two teenagers were later found guilty of housebreaking by a jury in Criminal Court but got off with a stern warning from the judge and a suspended sentence after the jury recommended mercy because of their age.

By 1900 Charles and brother, Joseph, owned a pool hall on the 20th block of K street NW. The pool hall was the scene of several disturbances. One night in 1901 Charles was arrested for discharging his revolver during a disagreement with a patron over payment.

Charles and his brother also owned a pool hall at 11th and U street NW. The pool hall was located just outside a section of the city that was called Striver’s Row.   The area was given the name because it was the home of many educated Negro professionals who lived in the city.

The residents soon became weary of the disturbances associated with the pool hall. In 1904, several residents appeared before the District Commissioner to protest the renewal of Charles’ license to operate the pool hall. The proceedings of these hearings are documented in several newspaper articles.


Source:  The Evening Star November 29, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 12.  ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Source: The Evening Star November 29, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 12. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.


Source: The Evening Star December 6, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 5 ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.


Source: The Washington Post November 30, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 10. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Source: The Washington Post November 30, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 10. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Charles appears in the news again in 1913 when he was arrested for shooting his revolver during a fight with another man. The Legal Record section of the newspaper provides a summary of the court action in the months that followed his arrest. Charles was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and he pleaded not guilty. He was found guilty, committed with a bail of $2000.and few days later a motion for a new trail was filed.


Source: The Washington Post September 26, 1913 (Washington, DC) Page 3. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Thanks to these numerous news articles, I now have a better understanding of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived and worked.

There are several methods for accessing online newspaper databases. ProQuest provides online archives to numerous newspapers. These databases can be accessed from most public library websites. Check with your local library for more information. The Chronicling America website provides free access to historic U.S. newspapers from 1836-1922. This website is a great resource because it contains many newspapers that are no longer in print. An internet search for “historical newspapers online” will return many lists of historical newspapers by state.

Thoughts of an Accidental Local Historian

I recently was the recipient of the 2013 Caroline Historical Society Award in recognition for my efforts to research, document, promote, and preserve the history of Caroline County, Virginia.  This was one of several awards that I have received for my efforts to preserve local history.  As I drove to Caroline County, Virginia to attend the meeting where I would be presented with the award I thought about the path that led me to become a local historian.

I have always been a bookroom who loved school, reading, writing and performing research.  However, as a student, history was my least favorite subject.  It was just an endless list of dates and events that had no significance to me.  Despite my lack of interest in history, I did enjoy researching my family history.

I became interested in genealogy as a teenager after Alex Haley’s book and movie Roots became popular in the 1970’s. My research at that time mainly consisted of talking to a few relatives and reviewing census microfilm.  As a young adult, college, career, marriage and motherhood caused me to put my research aside; however, every once in awhile I would do a little research.

In 2004, I began to devote more time to my research. Technology has changed greatly since I first started my research back in the 1970’s. The internet has provided me access to many resources and people that were previously unavailable.   Additionally, the 1930 census was now available and this document provided the link that I needed to research my family all the way back to 1870 in Caroline County, Virginia.  I was able to locate cousins who lived in Caroline County and began traveling to the county to perform research.

As I became more involved in my research I wanted to know more than names on a pedigree chart. I wanted to know about the everyday occurrences of my ancestors: Where did they live? Work? Go to School? What clubs and social organizations did they belong to?  I became interested in the community where they lived, the impact they had on the community and the impact the community had on their lives. Understanding this information gives me a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors.

I began taking an active role in preserving the history of the communities in which my ancestors lived.  I created my website ( to share documents and other information that would help others with their research. I was one of several interviewers for the Fort AP Oral History Project. The final product of the project was a book titled Wealthy in Heart: Oral History of Life Before A.P. Hill.   

As I traveled to various, archives, libraries and other repositories to perform research; I noticed a dearth of information about African Americans.  However, as I talked to African Americans in the county, I would hear interesting stories of their lives growing up in Caroline County.   As I listened to their stories, I would often think, “This is wonderful information. Someone should write it down and preserve it.”   In 2009, I decided to become that someone.  I initiated the Union High History Project to research, document and preserve the history of Caroline County, Virginia’s only high school for Negroes during the era of segregation. The end product of this project was a book titled, Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969My experience with the Union High History Project inspired me to start speaking to genealogy groups on the importance of preserving local history.

I no longer see history as a list of insignificant dates and events. Instead history gives me a better appreciation for what I have today,  inspires me to continue the legacy and make the future better for the next generation.


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