I went to a genealogy conference in Washington DC last September. The International Black Genealogy Summit was my first conference outside of Arkansas and this conference is one of the premier genealogical conferences for family historians searching for people of African ancestry. This conference was planned, organized and the majority of the attendees were African-American. This was the first time that wasn’t among the few African-Americans at a genealogy conference. I was actually in the majority for once. All of the workshops were dedicated to African-American genealogy. When I decided to attend this conference one of the workshops I knew I wanted to attend was Using Online Historical Black Newspapers for Genealogical Research. This workshop listed a variety of online sources for Black newspapers that can be used for researching your family or community. This was a wonderful conference, and I was able to get a lot of great information that helped me advance my research efforts.
Anytime I learn about a new way to research or a new research tool, the first name I always enter is my grandfather, Booker Mays. I’m always trying to find any type of information about him. So once I got home from the conference, I decided to start searching online newspapers. The first one I decided to try was genealogybank.com. I signed up for a free 14-day trial and quickly entered in Booker’s information. The results showed over a hundred newspaper articles for Booker Mays in Arkansas. I must say that I was very excited. But in the back of my mind I remember telling myself, don’t get excited because this is the grandparent I haven’t been able to find much information on. The first few articles I opened didn’t have anything to do with Booker Mays. They were articles from the Arkansas State Press (an African-American newspaper in Arkansas) that had been written by my Granny, his wife Gladys Denson Mays. Although I was discouraged now thinking that these one hundred search results would be either written by or about my Granny, I kept clicking and reading articles from the search results. Almost halfway through the results, I saw an article titled Negro Man Dies in the Arkansas Gazette. The date was a few days after the date I had for Booker’s death. I opened the article and screamed out loud at my kitchen table. This was Booker’s obituary in a newspaper I had never thought to look in. This newspaper obituary didn’t give me any new information about my grandfather, but I was so excited to find something about him.
At this point, I had read through over forty articles and had only found one that had some information about my grandfather, so I decided that was a good stopping point for the night. I wanted to end my first day of newspaper research on a good note. The next day I picked up where I left off, and the first article I opened read Booker Mays returned from Jackson, Mississippi after spending the holidays with relatives in January 1943. The next article read Booker Mays was called to Cincinnati, Ohio due to the death of his brother-in-law in November 1953. Then there was an article that read Mrs. Mozell Williams and daughter, Martha Jean are visiting brother Booker Mays, and family in July 1945. These articles were an interesting find because I had never heard of anyone mention Booker’s family in Mississippi before. I grew up in a time when children were seen and not heard. So I didn’t ask questions of my parents or grandparents about family history or anything like that when I was younger. By using online newspapers I was able to get the names of some of his family members that I can start to research and hopefully find even more information about them and Booker’s life in Mississippi.
Not only did I get to learn a little about his family in Mississippi, I also got to read articles that were about him traveling with my grandmother around the state. Several articles mention that Mr. and Mrs. Booker Mays motored to Jonesboro, Little Rock, Pine Bluff or, Memphis. Often times he was accompanying her to a meeting or speaking engagement. In my research, I often think of and speak about Booker as my Dad’s father forgetting that he was a husband too. When I read these articles about them traveling together, I got the sense that he was very protective of his wife and wanted to make sure she was safe. Which makes me want to learn more about their relationship, how they met is a question that has popped into my mind quite often over the past few months.
I don’t know what my next step is for my research of my grandfather. But I do feel like I have gotten to know him better over this past year during this genealogy journey. So much so that I have decided that he is no longer Booker to me, he is now Grandpa. I may not have ever gotten the chance to meet Grandpa, hear his voice, or make memories with him. But I am getting to know him the only way I can now, through my genealogy journey. And I am making memories of him now through my research discoveries. And this is why my journey continues….
To go back and read Part 1, click here.
To read Part 3, click here.
To read Part 4, click here
To read Part 5, click here