Monday, April 28, 2014



Yesterday I attended a book signing for Our Ancestors, Our Stories in Edgefield, South Carolina.  All five authors were on hand and it was a pleasure to meet with them.  I had met Bernice in person once before and it was great seeing her again.

Even if you haven’t done any African-American research, and even if you have no ancestors in the Edgefield, South Carolina area, there are several things you can learn from this book.

Harris Bailey starts the book off by giving a great history of the Edgefield area. The other four authors, Bernice Alexander Bennett, Ellen LeVonne Butler, Ethel Dailey and Vincent Sheppard chronicle their quest to learn more about their ancestors who were from the Edgefield area.

1) Oral histories are essential!  You need to talk to as many people as you can and pay attention to what they have to say.  It may be the same story but they have heard it from different people so each version could contain different information.  When you put all of the stories together, more pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.  The authors of this book started with oral histories and then found the documents to back it up.  These oral histories will get you going in the right direction.

2) Interview the oldest members of your extended family before it is too late.  I can so relate to this one.  In 1977, I attended my 2nd great-aunt Lula’s 100th birthday party.  (She died in 1979 at age 102).  She was sharp as a tack.  Can you even imagine what she could have told me?  She was born in 1876!  That was a lost opportunity.  Lula’s mother, my 2nd great-grandmother “Tiny,” died in 1952 before I was born.  She was 100 years old.  My dad’s first cousin Mary (also a genealogist) is kicking herself because she never though to get the old stories from Tiny while she was still living.  Tiny was born in 1852 and her father fought in the Civil War.  You will see examples of this same thing in the book.  You have got to talk to these people before everything they know goes to the grave with them.

3) Sometimes people don’t want to talk about the past.  There are some great examples in the book of how patience pays off when you are trying to talk to people that aren’t as enthusiastic about the family history as you are.

4) Sometimes travelling is necessary if you want really want to do a thorough job.  There are just some things you won’t find any other way.  You will see many examples of this in the book.

5) You will have better luck if you only focus on one line.  The authors in the book were striving toward a specific goal.  I think that many genealogists (including me) look at too many lines at a time.  I know that if I focused all my energy into a single line I would probably be able to break down some longstanding brick walls.

6) Patience is a virtue.  Don’t expect to get the answer you are looking for in a day, a week or a month.  Sometimes it takes years.


This is a great book.  It is well-written and you can learn so much by seeing the steps other people have taken to research their family lines.  I highly recommend it.


IMG_20140427_145507959_HDRThe five authors from left to right:  Ellen LeVonne Butler, Harris Bailey, Jr., Vincent Sheppard, Ethel Dailey and Bernice Alexander Bennett.


Photo 1I am not sure what Bernice and I were talking about!



Photo 2Here we are!


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Great post! Love the photos!

    Question for you: As I research my family, I find some ancestors owned slaves and the slaves are mentioned in wills, etc. These ancestors lived in Wilkes County, N.C. Where can I share the slave information I find? I have a blog but is there any other place I should be sharing this?

    1. I think your blog is a great place because it gets the information out on the internet which Google can find. It puts the name of the owner and the names of the slaves on the same page which is very important.

      I would also see about getting any information you have to the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society I am sure that have some sort of database/compilation of deeds and probate involving slaves.