31 March 2011

Breaking Down Brickwalls in African-American Research

Lucie Lewis, Ed.D. will present part 2 of her great-grandmother’s story in The Next Steps: Breaking through Brickwalls: the Florence Virginia Jenkins Story Continues at the 11th New England Regional Genealogical Conference. The conference, held every other spring, will be from April 6th to the 10th in Springfield, Massachusetts.

A Passion for Family History

Some have heard or read the story about how Lucie became interested in genealogy. It all began with helping her then 4th-grader with his family tree for a school report. Many a genealogist got their start in that same way. But what was it about her child’s report that unleashed the inner genealogist in Lucie? It was the realization that she herself knew so little. Raised in an extremely private family that discouraged talk about past things, she denied her own feelings about wanting to know her roots. Participation in her son’s project “flamed the passions” for seeking out her family history. Lucie’s enthusiasm spread through her extended family enabling others to begin their own research. Genealogy is now a family activity and “thrilling” for Lucie to see.

Freelance Writer, Educator, Motivator, and, of course, Genealogist

Before genealogy, Lucie worked in a variety of fields including banking, economic development, and higher education. In 2009, Lucie launched Creative Futures LLC. As a principal in the company, she offers professional writing services to a variety of clients. She also authors the blog Transitioning With GraceLucie explains that her blog is the vehicle she uses to allow her to work through the circumstances of her life. Through the blog, she shares her thoughts and pathways as a help to others who may be experiencing similar issues. Lucie also provides content for a number of online markets and is a member of the Society for Technical Communication. This is her second presentation at NERGC – returning because of a promise made to her audience two years ago to return with more of Florence’s story.

African-American Research

In our interview, Lucie remarked on some of the challenges involved researching our African- American ancestors. A major stumbling block for many family historians is researching past the year 1870. Slave research becomes a complicated mix of knowing the area where your ancestors likely lived, who their owners may have been, and what records are available. Researching beyond 1870 requires a learned understanding of patterns and cultures that are not present in other American groups. Other obstacles in researching African-American ancestors are the secret, untold stories that many families have. Elders may withhold vital information to protect past family secrets or create family legends and stories to divert the truth. According to Lucie, there are times when you don’t understand why you can’t go any further in your research only to find that you’ve been going the wrong way all along. Had the truth been known from the onset, your research may have followed a different path.

Breaking Down Those Walls

Lucie’s best advice for breaking through your own brick walls? “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged!” While admitting that she hates “when the records win”, she also cautions researchers that, as hard as it is to accept, sometimes the records don’t exist. Some things may never be found. There aren’t always readily available answers and some brick walls may seem immoveable. But in the end, your need for the story will keep you looking. Lucie also encourages others to continue to educate themselves by attending conferences and other programs. Listening to and learning from other researcher’s may shine a light of understanding on your own research.

18 March 2011

Interview With Sherry Gould

Will you be at the 11th New England Regional Genealogical Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts come April? Sherry Gould will be. Sherry will co-present “Discovering Your Native American Roots in Northern New England” with Paul Bunnell. I spoke with Sherry recently about the conference, Native American research, and, of course, the pursuit of ancestors.

Dedication to Community

Sherry's passion for sharing her skills, knowledge and resources with others was apparent throughout our conversation. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Wijokadoak Inc, an agency that focuses on Abenaki language instruction, child welfare, and other Native issues in New Hampshire. Sherry and her husband Bill are Abenaki basket makers. Together they run Western Abenaki Baskets, creating and selling traditional Abenaki fancy and utilitarian baskets. Adding to this busy schedule are the Native American genealogy research programs Sherry conducts throughout New Hampshire. She also invites family historians interested in pursuing their Native American roots to weekly workshops and instruction in her home.

Alternative Sources

Sherry has a varied expertise in genealogy. Besides her focus on Native American genealogy, she is a genealogist for the New Hampshire Society of Colonial Dames verifying early colonial families and lineages. She has also written more than a dozen articles for the New England Genealogical and Historical Society on New Hampshire research. These articles can be found on the Society’s website at www.americanancestors.org.

I asked Sherry about the differences and similarities between colonial and Native ancestral research. She replied that while there are many similarities in records research between the two cultures, the methodology involved in Native American research can be unique. She stresses the involvement of oral history in tracking down Northern New England Native ancestries. Because of the history between the indigenous peoples of New England and the European colonists and the associated traumas, written records for colonial era Native Americans are not always clear in matters of race. Alternative sources can sometimes best answer Native research questions. What sorts of alternative sources may be answered during her conference presentation!

Be Tenacious

Sherry’s advice for family historians searching for Native American ancestors?  Don’t get discouraged! Expect twists and turns in following the paths of your ancestors. Be creative when considering alternative sources for traditional records. Be persistent, be tenacious, be thick-skinned, and, especially, keep looking.

8lsanten ak8oi (Make Peace),


08 March 2011

Family History Writing Challenge Aftermath

The challenge is over but I did want to update both of my readers on how I did during the month. While it was my pleasure to write about the life and experiences of my great-grandmother, Nellie Louisa Scott Toney, I did not meet my goal. Twice I stopped to do additional research and there were a few days when I just didn’t get the chance to write anything.

Newspaper clipping from November 1943 showing Grama Nellie’s sons, Albert and Frank Toney, and her grandson, Frederick Toney. The boys were home on leave for Edwin Toney’s funeral.

One of the things I discovered during this process that amazed me was that I hadn’t paid close attention to the “facts” that I collected about Grama Nellie. For instance, in my “Toney” notebook, I clearly list all of her children with their birthdates and dates of death. I’ve had this information in the notebook for literal years. Yet, while writing about her childbearing years, I discovered (to my shame) that I never noticed that 1926 was a significant year for her, full of both joy and heartbreak.

Her youngest son, Edward Manuel, was born in January 1926, twenty-one years after the birth of her eldest child, Cora. But in April of that same year, her two-year old daughter, Ethel, died of complications of tuberculosis. And if that was not tragic enough, just three months later, in July, her 12-year old, Esther, also passed away from tuberculosis.

How did she do it? I can’t imagine the strength to endure such tragedy while caring for a newborn. I do know that portraits in large oval frames of Esther and Ethel hung on the wall in Grama Nellie’s house until she passed. One hangs in my mother’s house now although no one knows if its Ethel or Esther. According to my mother, the other portrait disappeared when my great-uncle Eddie claimed the frame it resided in. None of Grama Nellie’s other children had such portraits.

Grama Nellie’s husband and six of her ten children predeceased her. That she endured to care for subsequent generations of Toneys, including myself, is a testament to her strength, her love, and her beauty. I will finish her story. I want others to know just how magnificent she was.