I declared 2015 the year of the death certificate. At that time I had been doing the majority of my research online but had come to a point where I wasn’t finding any new information on my ancestors. So I went back and re-read a couple of my genealogy reference books. There I learned that a good vital record to have was a death certificate. So I decided I would get all the death certificates I could for everybody on my tree.
Most of my ancestors died in Arkansas, so I ordered all that I could online, which for Arkansas are the years from 1935-1961. All the other years 1914-1934 and 1962-present have to be ordered either in person at the Vital Records Department in Little Rock, Arkansas or you could order them by mail. I decided that it would probably be quicker to walk in the office and order one than by mail because the website said ordering by mail would take up to six to eight weeks. So I decided to enlist the help of my nephew, Eric to assist me in this task. My brother and his family live in Little Rock so Eric could go to the office in person during business hours. The next time I was in Little Rock I would give the filled out request form and the money to Eric so he could go to the vital record department. I only gave him one the first time because I wanted to see how long it would take. He said that from the time he handed the information to the clerk to when he got the death certificate was about ten minutes. We did this for the majority of that year, and with Eric’s help, I was able to obtain over 15 death certificates from Arkansas.
During this year of the death certificate, I also ordered death certificates from Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois. My family history binder was starting to get full. But back then all I knew to look for from those records were parents names and informant names. It wasn’t until the middle of last year while listening to a genealogy podcast that I went back and looked at all of these death certificates I had. The podcaster said as you learn more information about genealogy it is important to review records that you obtained early in your research with a fresh eye for more information.
Anytime I have a new research technique or want to try something different I always start with Grandpa Booker. But even with a fresh set of eyes, there was still no new information on his death certificate. I had ordered his sister’s death certificate from Ohio, so I decided I would review that one. While reviewing it, it dawned on me that I didn’t have a funeral program or newspaper obituary for her. So I then went online and googled ‘Cincinnati online death records’. The first result was the online Cincinnati and Hamilton County death index, but unfortunately, I didn’t find anything. I then went to newspapers.com and entered her name and the year of her death. I found her newspaper obituary, but I didn’t have a subscription to newspapers.com, so I couldn’t actually read it. So I wrote down the name of the newspaper and the date and emailed the Hamilton County library in Cincinnati explaining what I was looking for. I got a response back and was told that they would have someone review the microfilm for that date and email me if they found something. About a week later I received an email with a scan of her newspaper obituary. It didn’t have any family members names listed. All it had was the time, date, and place of the funeral and where the burial would be. The same information that was in the death certificate, or so I thought.
I kept looking at this obituary for the next couple of days trying to figure out what my next step should be. Then I saw it had the place of the funeral was listed as Bethel AME Church, Cincinnati Ohio. Grandpa Booker’s sister died in 1999, and in the genealogy world that isn’t that long ago. So I googled ‘Bethel AME Church Cincinnati OH’ to see if the church was still in existence. I found the address of the church online was the same as what was listed in the obituary. So I decided to write a letter to the pastor explaining my research and that I was looking for any information on grandfather’s sister or if there was anyone in the church that remembered her and her family.
Now I have written many letters to churches, family members, and other people over the past couple of years asking for information. The majority of the time either I got very little information from them, or I got no response at all. So my expectations were very low going into this. But to my surprise a week later I received an email from the church historian. She stated that she personally knew grandpa Booker’s sister and that she knew there was a photo of her in a church anniversary program from 1963. She also said that grandpa Booker’s sister was on the usher board and played the piano for the gospel chorus as well.
God, church, and faith have always been an important part of me and my family. So to have this photo of her from a church anniversary program makes my connection to grandpa Booker and his sister even stronger. And it makes me want to know even more. Was grandpa Booker always a part of the AME church even in Mississippi? When did his sister move to Ohio? Why did she decide on Ohio? Does she still have family that lives in Ohio? I will be looking for these answers and so much more this year. I’m not only getting to know my grandfather through my research, but I’m also getting to know his family. And this is why my journey continues…
To read Part 1 click HERE
To read Part 2 click HERE
To read Part 3 click HERE
To read Part 4 click HERE
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Continue the journey . . .
Ohio was almost like a hub for AME’s for decades. We had multiple churches there on the Underground Railroad network, many free southern blacks fled there before the civil war. Wilberforce and Xenia were a gathering place for us.
I am going to start trying to get some church records for AME churches that I have identified within our family history in Mississippi and Alabama soon. I think there may be some interesting information there waiting on me to discover it.