African American Genealogy LibGuide

For a class, I was instructed to create my own LibGuide. I chose to create one about African American genealogy. This is geared toward my own genealogical specialty, but also one that many researchers have questions about. This is for historians, and was created as an archival reference assignment.

Those interested in learning more about African American genealogy/history, especially those trying to tackle the 1870 Brick Wall, feel free to browse my LibGuide.

Benjamin Bilberry, Free Man and Devoted Husband

Love should never be a hard feeling to achieve, it should never be dictated by others. Yet, during slavery, enslaved people had to fight for their love. They had to fight even harder to keep their loved ones together. For many, only stories of the horrendous difficulties of slavery are passed down through oral tradition. Yet, with excellent record keeping, some of the oral stories can be verified.

Around the year of 1790 in Richmond, Virginia, a free person of color by the name of Benjamin Bilberry loved his wife dearly. Somehow, Benjamin Bilberry was free, whether born or granted, he was a free man of color. He owned land, likely not much, but enough. His wife, who went by the name Kate, was enslaved by a man named Abraham Cowley. Benjamin traded what land he had in the hopes that it would grant his wife’s freedom from Abraham. However, the hopes of freeing his wife with his land fell short and “instead of liberating his said wife and freeing her perpetually from the Shackles of Bondage has only changed her master.” Benjamin had incidentally become his own wife’s master.

Being the “master” of his wife, bothered Benjamin. He acknowledges that even to “his uncultivated Mind it is irksome to know that he himself, by the Laws of this, now independent Common Wealth, is forced to hold his own Wife in a Slavish Bondage without the power of making her as free as himself.” These are the words and thoughts spoken by Benjamin Bilberry. Some states required free people of color to own slaves in order to remain living in the state. I cannot verify whether or not Virginia was one of those states, but what is clear is that the laws restricted Bilberry from being able to personally free his wife.

These constrained laws are what forced Benjamin to go to the courts to petition a request to free his wife. He prays that “no policy may restrict you Honor from suffering him to enjoy the sweet reflection of having spent the whole labours [sic] of his Life in bestowing freedom on one equal by nature…to himself and whom he has chosen to be the partner of his worldly Cares.” Benjamin is pleading with the courts. He just wants to be able to love his wife freely and have her love him freely without the titles of being enslaved constricting their true emotions. He wants her to be as free as he currently is to make her own decisions. He wants their love to be genuine and pure and not tainted by the terms such as “Master” and “Slave.”

The original document was located and examined. Within the words of the petition, it clearly states that Benjamin is requesting his wife’s freedom. The outcome of Benjamin Bilberry’s petition is reported to have been granted. Kate, Benjamin’s wife, was permitted to be free and no longer an enslaved person.

Millionaire Slaves


15 June 1864, in Victoria, Texas, William Henry Ellis, also known as Guillermo Enrique Eliseo, was born into slavery to Charles and Margaret Nelson Ellis. Born a slave, William Henry Ellis would go on to make millions through stock brokering.

The Civil War was fought in the United States between the North (Union) and the South (Confederates). The Civil War began 12 April 1861 and ended on 9 May 1865, with the Union Army being victorious. The ending of the Civil War led to President Abraham Lincoln signing the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved African Americans from the bondage of slavery.

23 December 1867, on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana, Sarah Breedlove, known as Madam C. J. Walker, was born to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. Sarah Breedlove was the fifth child born to recently freed enslaved Owen and Minerva, but the first child to be free-born. Not allowing the shackles of slavery to hold her back, Sarah Breedlove would go on to become a self-made millionaire through her business savvy mentality.

Understanding that some former slaves did not allow society to hold them back from reaching their full potential is important to the African American community. William Henry Ellis (Guillermo Enrique Eliseo) and Sarah Breedlove (Madam C. J. Walker) are two influential African Americans whose names we, the African American community, do not speak of nor hear of often enough.

Enrique Eliseo passed and began advertising his race as being of Mexican or Hispanic ancestry, though he was not. Growing up in Victoria, Texas, Eliseo identified with the Hispanic heritage of the area’s Mexican-American population. In his working years, Eliseo worked as a ranch hand and then as an assistant to a leather dealer. Still in the Victoria area, Eliseo would go on to trade cattle and dealt in hides and wool. Eventually, Eliseo would expand his hide and stock trade into other areas of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Eliseo worked as a custom inspector in Brownsville at some point in his lifetime. He also attended college in Nashville and took a few business courses in New York. Yet, Eliseo saw untapped opportunities in Mexican trade and began successfully dealing cotton, wool, hides, horses, and cattle across the border. In his mid-years, Eliseo began getting involved in African American politics and ambassador-like activism. He attempted to find work and relocate African Americans to Mexico for work. When that failed, he began open-commination with Ethiopia. On 24 September 1923, in Mexico City, Mexico, Guillermo Enrique Eliseo passed away, leaving his truth a secret to be uncovered and a strong legacy to be remembered.

Madam C. J. Walker became an orphan at the age of 7, when her mother died in 1874 and her father passed the following year. Madam Walker was then sent to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Vicksburg, Mississippi. After slavery, the South implemented the notion of sharecropping. Madam Walker was among many of the post-slavery era who worked as a sharecropper. She picked cotton and was also likely employed doing household work due to her age. In order to escape both an oppressive working environment and abuse from her brother-in-law,


Madam Walker married Moses McWilliams. Together they had a daughter in 1885, but unfortunately, two years after the birth of their daughter, Madam Walker was left widowed at 20 years of age. Madam Walker then took her daughter and moved to St. Louis where her brothers were successful barbers. Madam Walker found work as a washerwoman and made enough work to be able to afford to send her daughter to school. She herself attended a public night school whenever she was able. St. Louis is where Madam Walker met her second husband, Charles J. Walker who worked in advertising and would later help promote her hair care business. When Madam Walker developed a scalp disorder that caused her to love a lot of her hair, she began experimenting with home remedies and store-bought products in an attempt to improve her condition. Madam Walker’s brand really took off when she was hired by Annie Turnbo Malone. She then traveled promoting her hair care products. As profits increased, Madam Walker began to give back to her community. She opened a factory and a beauty school. She was also big on philanthropic endeavors. Sadly, Madam Walker passed away 25 May 1919, but left a huge legacy to remember.

Guillermo Enrique Eliseo and Madam C. J. Walker are just two individuals within the African American community whose names should be recognized, talked about, and remembered. Knowing that there were influential and affluent individuals within the African American community is important to the self-worth and confidence of African Americans.

Attucks Defines the American Revolution

Who was Crispus Attucks? The name may sound familiar to some. You may have heard the name during your educational career, or you may have heard the name in a passing conversation. Crispus Attucks is an important name to know for African Americans, and more importantly, all Americans. He was an African American, who, innocently, lost his life.


Crispus Attucks was born into slavery in the year of 1723 in Framingham, Massachusetts; then at the time was a part of British America. His mother was Nancy Attucks and his father was Prince Yonger, based on what could be found about him. He also had a supposed sister, Phebe Attucks. Attucks is known for being the first person killed in the Boston, Massacre, and the first American killed. It should be noted that he was not a part of the military, and was just a civilian.




Crispus Attucks was a sailor. Once he had fled from his master, a warrant was out for his return. Attucks took the opportunity to flee and become a sailor, traveling the seas. Being that he was killed during the Boston Massacre, his death was recorded as being 5 March 1770 in Boston, Massachusetts, British America. His death was mentioned in a few newspapers, and a trial was brought about by John Quincy Adams to avenge his death. There is now a monument in the Boston Commons commemorating Crispus Attucks.

A Civil War Hero

7101937_114265841571African Americans are not honored enough for their contribution to the American culture and history that went in to making this nation great. A man, not spoken of often enough, should be more recognized for his honor, bravery, and courage during his time serving in the American Civil War.

Christian Fleetwood was born Christian Abraham Fleetwood on 21 July 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland. He is known for his involvement during the Civil War and even received a Medal of Honor for saving the American Flag from capture. He fought in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm for the Union Army. He later worked for the National Guard. During his time fighting for the Union Army, 1863-1896, he ranked as Sergeant Major due to his wealth of knowledge. His infantry was the 4th US Colored Infantry Regiment. He was a graduate of Ashmus Institute, now Lincoln University. He ranked as a Major with the National Guard.

Christian Fleetwood married Sara Iredell on 16 November 1869. Sara Iredell’s grandmother was Louisa Burr who was the sister of Philadelphian abolitionist, John (Jean) Burr. Iredell was also the daughter of Vice President of Aaron Burr and her maternal uncle was novelist, Frank J. Webb.

Christian Fleetwood die on 28 September 1914 in Washington, DC. He is buried in Columbian Harmony Cemetery.

Heroes Exist in Our Own Families

We often find ancestors who we hear through oral history that have done wrong. Many take that information and ignore their contributions that went into how the family came to be. My great-great-grandfather was one of those ancestors. I had heard his name in the oral re-telling of my family history, but not once had I heard of his accomplishments, until I went looking.


Charlie Cahee was born to Turner and Agustine (Baptist) Cahee on 23 November 1893 in Roanoke, Louisiana. A side note, Augustine (Baptist) Cahee’s paternal grandparents have been indicated as being born in Africa on a few census records. Charlie Cahee served as a private for the US Army during World War I. His unit was the 803 Pioneer Infantry and his service number was 37745620.

From information found through extensive research, Charlie Cahee fought overseas in Liverpool, England. Cahee can be located on the Maunganui Ship departing New York on 17 Sept 1918 traveling to Liverpool, England. He was also found returning from Liverpool, England on the Celtic Ship. He had departed England on 12 August 1918. This information indicates that Charlie Cahee traveled back and forth from the United States to England during his time in the war.

Charlie Cahee married Adelaide Jackson after he returned from the War on 22 September 1920. Adelaide Jackson supposedly attended Tuskegee Institute under the leadership/presidency of Booker T. Washington, and was taught by George Washington Carver.

Unfortunately, the War seemed to have had a mental and/or emotional impact on Charlie Cahee. In his later years, alcohol got the best of him. Adelaide (Jackson) Cahee divorced Charlie, taking their four children, and remarried.

Charlie Cahee died on 9 September 1972 in Roanoke, Louisiana. He is buried in Benevolent Cemetery.

An Archival Repository for DNA

Image result for ancestry dnaI know it has been a while since I last posted. I have been busy adjusting to graduate school, which I am double majoring in History (MA) and Archives Management (MLIS) at Simmons College. I have not forgotten or given up on my ancestral hunt. When I find time, I am still researching and have successfully found more stories and more names to add to my growing family tree. My son, when he is older, will be proud to know that he can name almost all of his 64-4th great-grandparents. However, during my schooling, I have been learning more about archives and archival repositories, both digital and physical. I have come to terms with the lack of scholarly writing on a few subjects that most interest me. More importantly, with the growing interest of ancestry DNA testing, I find myself asking questions and trying to connect my passions for archives, record keeping, and genealogy.

I am surprised that this concern has barely been questioned at least in some sort of article or blog. I read a post from the Legal Genealogist regarding DNA after a person has passed away. The post looked into extracting DNA from a deceased individual and sending it to some type of ancestral DNA testing company. The article references Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) as a company in which this can be done. But, I am more interested in understanding what happens to our DNA on these ancestry DNA databases after we die?

I believe that a digital archival repository should be created that houses the DNA of each individual. Tied in with the individual companies should be consent forms. Individuals should have the option to choose to have their test results permanently deleted, designate a certain amount of time, or have their results immediately transferred to the archival repository. The archival repository may have a physical location to house the consent forms, as well as the username and passwords affiliated with each database in which their results are held. Aside from the ethnic percentages, all other information is remained private. Proven descent to the individual or a valid research form will give a person access for a certain amount of time.

With this concept, the archival repository becomes accessible for genealogists and personal family historians, so that the DNA can be accessed to help dig further back. The people already in the databases are already giving consent to be known by their DNA matches, and they are not obligated to respond to any messages. I think this ideal repository allows the DNA of the deceased to be preserved for future use, while also holding valuable information. The DNA acts as a key to unlocking mysteries of the past.

This is all food for thought and perhaps one day, I will be the founder of such a repository, or perhaps one will open where this can become possible. For those who pass on before such a repository, if and when there is one, the descendants of the deceased should have the right to give consent.