Monday, September 29, 2014

PBS- Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Season 2

Despite all of the reminders, we missed Finding Your Roots on Tuesday night.  Presented and written by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., this series journeys deep into the ancestry of a group of remarkable individuals and provides new understanding of personal identity and American history.  The show airs on Tuesday nights at 7 pm in Houston but check your local listings to be sure.

On Wednesday night we were able to watch the full episode online at the website for the show.  We have another conflict this Tuesday night so being able to watch the show online is especially convenient.   Henry Louis Gates has been producing some of the best genealogy related television over the last several years so I highly recommend watching this show live if you can or on the web if you prefer.
Since the premiere of his groundbreaking series African American Lives (2006) through the first season of Finding Your Roots (2012), noted Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  has been helping people discover long-lost relatives hidden for generations within the branches of their family trees.  Professor Gates utilizes a team of genealogists to reconstruct the paper trail left behind by our ancestors and the world’s leading geneticists to decode our DNA and help us travel thousands of years into the past to discover the origins of our earliest forebears.

The first episode of Season 2 featured novelist- Steven King, actor- Courtney Vance and actor/singer- Gloria Reuben.  The common theme for all three guests was that they did not know their fathers and were cut off from their family history on their paternal lines.  All three guests also had ancestors that were profoundly affected by slavery.  It was a fascinating episode with many exciting discoveries.

If you are a sports fan, you will enjoy this week’s episode which premieres September 30th at 8PM EST (check local listings).  Episode 2 features three of America’s greatest athletes whose determination and love of sports were deeply shaped by their families, but who were all cut off from their true origins.

  • Billie Jean King learns the true story of her grandmother, who had always kept the secret of her orphan birth.
  • Derek Jeter confronts his own ancestors’ lives as slaves and discovers that they were owned by a white man named James Jeter – the source of the Jeter name and Derek’s 3rd great-grandfather.
  • Rebecca Lobo finds out that her Spanish ancestor fought side by side with a famous revolutionary and was forced to flee Spain because of his democratic ideals.
  • All are also reunited with the foundation of their American roots through the stories of immigrant ancestors who courageously set out across the Atlantic to build a new life.
The Finding Your Roots website has some tremendous resources for teachers on the "CLASSROOM" link.

Don’t forget to check out the website for extra features and to watch full episodes from the previous season.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Free Genealogy Classes at 1867 Settlement Celebration this Saturday

I am offering two free beginning genealogy classes this Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 106 Bell Drive in Texas City at 2 PM and 4 PM.  The first class will be geared toward children and the second class will focus on adults.  These classes are being offered in conjunction with the annual celebration at the 1867 Settlement National Historic District.   The 1867 Settlement celebration begins at 1 PM and ends at 6 PM.

1867 Settlement to host Western Celebration

The African-American Historical Preservation Committee of The 1867 Settlement’s fourth annual Western Celebration will be from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 27 on the Bell Drive Strip, 117 Bell Drive, in West Texas City. Wayne Dehart performs and gives the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. Source: KEVIN M. COX/The Galveston Daily News file photo.

The end of the Civil War in Texas was a time of new beginnings for four freed slaves who made a lasting impression upon Texas history by building the only Reconstruction-era, self-sustained African American community in Galveston County.   They and their families called it “Our Settlement.”
The land of the Settlement was purchased and established as a community in the late 1860s and early 1870s by a group of African-American cowboys after their days on the Chisholm Trail.  Kneeland Britton, Thomas Caldwell, Henry Hobgood, and Calvin Bell were the original settlers and many of their descendants still live in the vicinity today.

George Washington Butler was a rancher, a slave owner and then the employer of these cowboys and he helped them to purchase the land.  He provided letters in support of their character that testified that these were trustworthy, hardworking men who should be able to buy property.  The Butlers ran longhorn cattle on their ranch and the history of the Butler family has been preserved in the Butler Longhorn Museum.

The eastern and oldest part of the Settlement forms the current historic district about a quarter of a mile along the main street, Bell Drive. The original boundaries of the land bought by the founding families covered about a square mile.  The historic district is located very near the corner of Highway 3 and FM 1765 on the border of Texas City and LaMarque.

The 1867 Settlement celebration will include a cowboy trail ride, historical programs, street vendors, live entertainment, raffles and prizes.  Bring your lawn chairs and shade tents to set up on the grass.  Enjoy a living history reenactment by a Buffalo soldier.  Read the historical marker, see the historic buildings and help to celebrate Texas history.

And if you are interested in a free beginning genealogy class come see me!

For more information, the National Register of Historic Places Registration form is here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Anatomy of a Slave Narrative: The Recollections of Agatha Babino

 I happened upon one of the most fascinating short stories that I have ever read while preparing for a presentation on African American genealogy.  While searching for slave records in the card catalog, I noticed that there was a database entitled U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938.  I was looking for Texas examples to cite in my lecture so I began to browse the names of those interviewed in the Lone Star State.  

The name Agatha Babino immediately caught my eye.  My friend, Rev. William Henry King III, had agreed to let me use his family history as a case study for my class.  Pastor King’s mother was Madell Babino and Agatha Babino was his mother’s great grandmother.  This was one of those times when I felt that the spirits of the ancestors were calling me to uncover their long forgotten stories. user "bobknow" originally shared this to her Babineaux Family Tree, 26 Mar 2011

As I read the narrative, I was impressed by her courage in telling the details of her life.  She remembered that the slaves were given “shabby houses” built of logs with dirt floors.  She knew the names of her “Old Marse” and “Old Miss.”  Her plantation master was a “bad man” who would beat his slaves until they bled and then rubbed salt and pepper into the wounds.   Her uncle was brutally killed by the Ku Klux Klan for refusing to vote Democratic.

Mrs. Babino’s story was jam packed with names, dates, and stories which revealed a life filled with triumphs and tragedies. I felt like I was a CSI Investigator examining the evidence from the scene of a crime.  Armed with the names of people and places, it was relatively easy to find corroboration for her story in online history and genealogy.  I could not find “Carenco” but I was able to find a place called Carencro in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.

Source U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938 [database on-line].

The name of her slave owner, Ogis Guidry was a challenge at first.  His actual name was Augustin Guidry and he lived in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana from 1806 to 1872.  The transcriber of the interview apparently spelled the name phonetically.  Census records show him in Lafayette Parish in 1850, 1860 and 1870.  Her father’s slave owner, was Placide Guilbeau.  The Guilbeau family history is well documented here.  

The real gem was the fact that she listed the names and birthplaces of her parents, Dick and Clarice Richard and all of her siblings.  Their names did not come up in the 1870 census index at  I prepared myself for the tedious task of scanning every name in the township where the former slave owners where residing.  I scanned ten pages after the listing for Augustin Guidry but did not find them.  I found them two pages prior.  The last name was given as Richardson instead of Richard.  Dick and Clarice were the parents and the names of the children matched with the account given by Mrs. Babino.  Now I had the ages and the birthplaces from the census to add to the family record.  This helped to uncover many more records including census and vital records in both Louisiana and Texas.

Census Year: 1870; Census Place:  , Lafayette, Louisiana; Roll: M593_516; Page: 316B; Image: 126; Family History Library Film: 552015.

The interview with Agatha Babino included many pieces which are helping to solve this “Ancestor Puzzle.”  By revealing a more complete image of the family story, we can see that there are more records to be consulted.  Mrs. Babino stated "When freedom come we have to sign up to work for money for a year.  We couldn't go work for nobody else.  After de year some stays, but not long."  The agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau encouraged the former slaves to continue working for their former masters,  The agents wrote contracts between the planters and the farm workers.  Copies of many of those contracts have been microfilmed and some have been digitized in the Freedmen's Bureau records which are online at and

Pastor King attended my presentation so he could see the richly detailed picture of his family history that was emerging.  He told the audience that he was especially moved about the story of the uncle who was killed for exercising his voting rights.  He currently serves on the city council of Dickinson, Texas and has always treasured his right to vote.   Now he understood that there were profound historical reasons for cherishing his voting rights.  We embraced in appreciation for the bond we now shared.

If you would like to order a copy of my full report on this topic, please contact me through the contact box in the right hand column. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Do You Have Famous Kin? Can You Prove It?

Many people have stories in their family about being related to famous people.  Do you have famous kin?  Can you prove it?

I am working with a client right now that would like to have proof that she is related to an American President.  She is a member of the DAR and she has a pedigree that connects to an ancestor of President Calvin Coolidge.  The ancestors of many presidents can be found on a website called  The advantage of this particular website is that it includes sources.

The founder of is Rich Hall. He cites an example of a poorly documented relationship between Madonna and Lady Gaga by a genealogist at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society.  Even a highly respected organization like NEHGS can make mistakes.   In his “About” page he states “my pet peeve with most genealogy websites is that they don't share their evidence or sources, I made sure that I share mine. I may not always be right, but at least you know my sources and can judge that for yourself.”    I appreciate the fact that he shows his sources because it enables me to evaluate the evidence in those sources. 

A publicity photo of Judy Garland used in conjunction with "The Harvey Girls" 1946
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Our family has stories of famous kin too.  My wife and Judy Garland are 3rd cousins.  Their common ancestors are from Ontario, Canada: Hugh Fitzpatrick 1809-1878 and Margaret Ross 1807-1845.  Ms. Garland remained very close to her Milne and Fitzpatrick extended family until the death of her Grandmother (Eva Fitzpatrick Milne) who lived with her in California until 1949.  My work on this family was cited as a source by

Finding famous cousins and proving our relationship makes for fun dinner conversations.  People love to talk about these connections.  But some of these claims turn out to be family legends.  Once you are able to prove a famous connection, you will be surprised at how many more connections you will find with other famous people.  Proving a genealogical relationship can be hard work but I am always happy to help!

Monday, September 1, 2014

FGS 2014 San Antonio Wrap-Up

We made it home safely from the Federation of GenealogicalSocieties, 2014 Annual Meeting in San Antonio with bags full of papers and trinkets.  The registration desk gave me a name tag and then offered me ribbons to attach to the name tag.  My first ribbon says “I’m Connected” which was a conference theme descriptive of the connection that you make with all of the old and new friends and colleagues in the genealogy network.  I was glad to see such a good showing of attendees from the greater Houston and Galveston area.  I recognized a lot of faces from the TexasState Genealogical Society.  I got a chance to shake hands with the TV stars so now I really am “Connected”.

The first day was focused on development and improvement of genealogical societies.  I belong now and have belonged in the past to a variety of societies based on geography, ethnic origins or family names.  Some are better organized than others and the Society Day on Wednesday was geared toward dragging them out of 19th century practices to better serve a 21st century world.  We heard from luminaries in the genealogy world such as Curt Witcher of Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center and Josh Taylor of the PBS Genealogy Roadshow. 

Genealogy Roadshow

Mr. Witcher made a comment that I found particularly memorable: a 2013 U.N. study found that there are more cell phones in the world than toilets.  Of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have mobile phones. However, only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines – meaning that 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation.  This statistic helps to put genealogy in perspective to more urgent issues of world health.  This fact also points to the omnipresence of cell phones with all of the amazing technological potential that is implied.  The promise for reaching the genealogical audience through mobile technology is being pursued vigorously by and  Genealogy societies need to do the same.  Mr. Witcher had dozens more observations on the changing nature of our world and how genealogists should use environmental scanning to refocus our goals and objectives.

The Bay Area Genealogical Society has asked me to formulate a Special Interest Group on German genealogy for presentation beginning in January 2015.  The German genealogy classes at FGS were particularly useful toward that goal.  I especially liked the presentations from Dr.Michael D. Lacopo.  His sessions were both entertaining and action packed.  His case studies demonstrated some clever techniques for uncovering the roots of German ancestors. 

The ever changing jurisdictions in the political history of the German speaking people make local geography especially important.  Dr. Lacopo recommended that all serious German researchers should get a copy of How to Read & Understand Meyers Orts by Wendy Uncapher.  The German title of Meyers Orts is: und Verkehrs-Lexikon Des Deutschen Reichs and the English translation is: Meyers Geographical and Commercial Gazetteer of the German Empire 1912.  This gazetteer describes place names of the German Empire as they existed before World War I. 

shutterstock_877248581 German Village

Since many important records were kept at the local level, finding the towns of origin and residence is especially important in German research.  Dr. Lacopo presented a slide based on the work of Dr. Roger Minert at BYU about the “Success Rates of American Sources in Revealing German Hometowns”.  The striking fact is that Church Records are the most likely source for determining the German place of origin.  You can read more about this fascinating topic here at the Family Search blog.

I learned so many useful facts in four days of lectures that my brain is overflowing.  Fortunately, I took good notes and I have the syllabus for future reference.  Feel free to contact me with your genealogy questions.  Between my resources and my “Connected” colleagues, we are sure to have an answer to even the most difficult genealogical challenges.