Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Genealogy Workshop at St. Paul's Baptist Church

There is an upcoming Genealogy Workshop at St. Paul's Baptist Church. St. Paul's has always been a place where members of the African American community can come for worship and fellowship. However, the church also offers a variety of resources to the community in order to provide assistance and enrichment in other areas of their lives.

With that said, St. Paul Baptist Church is hosting its first Genealogy Workshop on Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 8:30 to 12:00 pm. The workshop will feature a Keynote Speaker as well as several local Genealogists, including myself, Karen Burney, Linda Bradley and Annette Madden who will be teaching beginning, intermediate and advanced classes in Genealogy. These classess will teach attendees skills and techniques that will enable them to reconnnect with their ancestral pasts including some of their slave ancestors.

This workshop serves a as a milestone, not just in Sacramento but for African American churches throughout the country. The church has always been a refuge for Africans Americans since slavery. It is only fitting that the church is allowing its present members to trace their roots and reconnect with their ancestors many of whom also relied on the church in their lifetime. In doing so, St. Paul is setting a precedent for African American churches throughout the Country.

Due the overwhelming interest and response, the classes are already at capacity. However, I wanted to do a story on the event so that it might spark interest in future seminars as well as encourage other churches in the African American community to host similar events.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Psalm 22:27

Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

Monday, May 25, 2009

History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 and was then known as "Decoration Day." It was a day to honor the then recently fallen Civil War soldiers by decorating their graves.

It was originally observed on May 30, 1868 by proclamation of a General John A. Logan. At the very first Decoration Day celebration, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and over 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 confederate and union soldiers.

By the late 1800s, the day had come to be known as Memorial Day. Following World War I, the celebration expanded to memorialize those who had died in all of the Nation's wars.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated across the country to honor those who has served in our Nation's armed forces as well as all others who were near and dear to us.

What is ironic to me though the fact that 141 years after the 1st celebration and speech at Arlington National Cemetery, our new President Barack Hussein Obama, the nation's 1st black president delivered the speech today at the annual event. The irony to me comes from the fact that the Civil War was fought over the enslavement of blacks and that most of those buried there that fought in that war, died over the issue.

This is just a testimony of how far we have come as a Nation.

Memorial Day Tribute

JEWEL ALPHONSO BURNEY October 2, 1928-February 13, 1973

Korean War Veteran

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to salute my father, Jewel Alphonso Burney who served in the United States Army during the Korean War. My father was born and raised in the Collinsburg area of Louisiana. He was the son of William and Bessie Hines Burney. He was one of 5 of their children but also had 3 other siblings.

He was very bright as a young child. Many tell stories of how he was an early reader and how he taught younger siblings to read as well. He also had an early interest in "tinkering" with electronic gadgets, fixing and putting things together.

He was educated at Egypt Hill School which doubled as a santuary on Sunday which was pastored by his grandfather, Reverend Anderson Burney.

As a young man, he decided to join the U.S. Army where he fought in the Korean War. He served his country well and was very proud as were we of his service up until his death in 1973. He is buried the Veterans Cemetery. I went to put flowers on his grave today. So in honor of Memorial Day, I would like to salute my father for his service to his country.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Start Spreading the News...NY, NY

Good morning, all. I am coming to you live today from New York City! I am here for an extended weekend in honor of Mothers' Day and I am having a blast. It has really been both a relaxing and invigorating trip for me.

New York is kind of my home away from home. I have been coming here for the last 10 years since 1999.

This time I have been on many adventures including a walking tour of Manhattan, Times Square Area and a guided tour of the city via New York Splash/Duck tours which transforms from a tour bus to a vessel that sails up Hudson River! After my voyage, I caught a wonderful play by the late August Wilson entitled, "Joe Turners' Come and Gone." The cast included Ernie Hudson and Latanya Richardson Jackson who is a wonderful actress and wife of Samuel L. Jackson.
Day 2 was Mothers' Day. I started my day off with attending a church service at the Abyssinian Baptist church, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts presiding. He preached a lovely service and the choir as usual was angelic. After church, I ventured over to my favorite Harlem eating spot, Sylvia's Soul Food. Madam Sylvia herself was in attendance and looked rather lovely.
Next I jetted off, by subway and bus of course, to Newark, New Jersey to a performance by the famed Alvin Ailey dances accommpanied by members of Sweet Honey and the Rock. The performance was superb! I have an excellent view of the performance in the 1st Orchestra Box! The music Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) was gorgeous with stunning ceilings that took my breath away. Next, I journeyed back to New York for an exciting concert at the Beacon Theater featuring, the fabulous Whispers and Teena Marie. Lets just say they turned it out. Both performers had the audience mesmerized and out of their seats for most of the show. Quite a day, huh!
Today, I am headed to Central Park and the public library and I plan to take in a movie this evening.
I am really enjoying my time in New York..... New York!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Psalm 33:12

Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

African American Genealogy Seminar

Hello all. I know its been a long time since we last talked. Sorry for my absence but life has been really busy. Since my last blog, I conducted a workshop at the annual African American Genealogy Seminar hosted by the Latter Day Saints. I taught a class entitled, "USING DIGITAL SCRAPBOOKING IN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY."

The purpose of the class was to teach individuals how they could combine the art of Digital Scrapbooking and graphic art with their genealogy research to create a Family History book. I illustrated how they could personalize their pages by combining family photographs, clipart and backgrounds with your genealogy research "finds" and family biographies to create a Family History Book that represented their family’s unique personality and heritage.

The information that I presented was very well received. As I had a lot of people come up to me after the class and tell me how much they enjoyed the class and that I had given them some ideas that they planned to utilize in creating their family books.

Below is a short outline of the information and steps that I presented for using digital scrapbooking in your Family History book. Hopefully, it will gives you some ideas and valuable tips on putting together your family history.


a) Adds personality and interest to your Family History Book and helps to better present and display your ancestors and their stories
b) You can print out multiple copies of your Family History
c) You can display in the form of a web gallery and/or send to your family and friends electronically so they can print their own copies
d) It is less costly than traditional Scrapbooking since you spend less on supplies

2. EQUIPMENT/SOFTWARE NEEDED (There are lots of software programs you can use. Here are some examples. Some contain pre-made templates and elements that allow you to create beautiful pages for your Family History)

a) Nova Development Photo Explosion
b) Nova Development Scrapbook Factory Deluxe
c) Adobe Photoshop
d) Jasc Paint Shop Pro
e) Microsoft Word
f) Online Scrapbooking Sites

3. STEPS: (Please note that there is no particular order that you need to perform steps a through e. You can choose all or one step. It’s up to you what you want to do to create your own unique designs)

a) Choose photograph(s) of people, places, things.
b) Upload photograph(s) from computer file, scanner or digital camera
c) Select background, borders, frames, photo corners, embellishments, clipart, maps, charts
graphs, family trees or any other items you want to include
d) You can add genealogy documents such as birth and/or death certificates, marriage license.
e) Enter your genealogy text such as a individual biographies or other information pertaining
to the page that you are creating
f) Arrange Items on page as desired
g) Once a final layout and design is completed, you can save, print, email or post to a webpage
h). Finally, you can have your pages bound to create your Family History Book

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Witherspoons of South Carolina via Scotland-Part 1 of a 5 part series

I have previously written blogs about how some of my ancestral lines are intertwined with that of the Witherspoon family of Louisiana, South Carolina and Scotland. The reason my family is connected with the Witherspoons is because they owned some of my ancestors during slavery.

In particular, Boykin Witherspoon owned my Pressley, Brayboy/Morris and possibly Hines and Jefferson lines. My grandpa Stephen Pressley who was born in 1820 was owned by Boykin Witherspoon. Stephen in fact wore the Witherspoon name up until the end of slavery when he took on the surname, Pressley.

Great-Great-Great Grandpa Stephen Pressley

So who are the Witherspoons and when did they arrive in America? The first Witherspoons according to a history written in 1790 by Robert Witherspoon, the grandson of the original Witherspoon settlers came to America in 1734.

The patriarch of the original emigrants was John Witherspoon who was born in 1670 in Begardie, Glasgow, Scotland. He married his cousin, Janet Witherspoon in 1693. The two were direct descendants of John Knox of Scotland and Robert the Bruce. As well, they were blood-related to Mary Queen of Scots.

John and Janet Witherspoon were the parents of Janet (1695-1761), David (1697-1759), James, Elizabeth (1703-1750), Robert, Mary (1707-1765) and Gavin (1712-1773).

As mentioned they originally resided in Scotland but relocated in 1695 to Knockbracken in the parish of Drumbo, Down county, Ireland where their children were born.

So what made them want to come to America? John Witherspoon received land grants from the King of England, George II. The tract of land sat between the lower Santee, Black and Pee Dee rivers. King George II ordered that eleven townships be erected to develop the "back country" of the Carolina Province. The townships were to consist of 20,000 acres laid out to front a river. The land where the Witherspoons were en route to sat on the Black river.

It still seems odd when you think about it for a King of England to be sending orders clear across the ocean in regards to the affairs in America. I guess I'm so used to our current governmental regime but this of course was before the "invention" of Presidents, Congress, and other U.S. government entities.

Hence, the Witherspoons set sail on September 17, 1734 from Belfast in Northern Ireland to America on a ship called "The Good Intent". The passengers included John Witherspoon (1670 -1739), his wife Janet (1670 - 1734), his sons, daughers and their families along with other families including the Pressleys in search of a new life in America. The voyage, however, proved to be very rocky and tragic. As John's wife, Janet died two days out from Belfast on the ship. The family was devastated which was worsened by the fact that they had to bury her at sea.

After the stormy voyage, the Witherspoon landed in Charleston, South Carolina around the 1st of December 1734. They reached Kingstree (Kinstree) in Feb 1735 in Williamsburg District. What they found made them question their decision to come to America. The area proved to be a heavily timbered wilderness full of snakes, wolves and other wild animals and Native Americans whose ancestors had inhabited the land for centuries so often took offense to their intrusion on what they considered to be their land. The tribes included the Wee Nee, the Wee Tee, Chickasaw, Creek , Waccamaw and other Pedee tribes.

After many obstacles including harsh weather, they began the task of building the town of Williamsburg. Of course, they did not do it alone, they did so with the aid of the Africans slaves that they acquired. Many of whom were my ancestors. The slaves provided the labor they needed to clear timber and other debris, develop roads, build structures and to turn a wilderness into a functioning town.

They laid out the town of Williamsburg which they named in honor of William, II, Prince of Orange (1650 – 1702). From 1689 onwards, he reigned as King over England, Ireland and Scotland. He was known in Northern Ireland as "King Billy". By the time, Williamsburg was erected he was already deceased. I guess his legacy must have been meaningful to the new settlers.

The name Kingstree which is the present-day site of Williamsburg and the first town in the Williamsburg township came from a large white pine tree on the bank of the Black River which forms the western boundary of the town. The tree was described as majestic and stood tall, erect and more noble than the others. This species of pine, along with all gold and siver mines was reserved for the King. Hence, the name of King's tree was first given to the tree and then to the town.

Despite their initial doubts, the family prospered. The wilderness, although it had its challenges, had a bounty of deer, wild turkeys, fish and muscadine grapes. Hence, food was one thing they did not have to worry about. As the colony grew, they established plantations. The crops included corn, flax, cotton for clothing and later indigo. Rice was also grown along the river.

Of course, the building of Plantations came slaves. Lots of them. The slaves dedicated their lives to the building of the township of Williamsburg. Their sweat and toll provided food, shelter, livelihood and wealth to the Witherspoons and other colonists and for generations to come.

They also erected the Williamsburg Church.

John Witherspoon died in the fall of 1737 in Boggy Swamp.. He was the first person buried at the Williamsburg settlement and was also the first person buried at the Williamsburg Meeting house.

Other families that migrated from Scotland and Ireland with John Witherspoon were the Wilsons, Friersons, Plowdens, James, Stuarts, Gordons, Porters, Pressleys, McDonalds, Ervins and Bradleys.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My Jefferson Ancestors

Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth. Job 5:25

Issac "Tookie" Jefferson

Jane Brayboy Jefferson

My great-grandmother, Cornelia Jefferson Hines Nickleberry (center rear)pictured with her 5 other sisters

A while ago, I wrote about how pleasantly surprised and grateful I was to have received a package containing photographs of my Jefferson ancestors. It was so wonderful to finally put the faces with people who it seemed like I had known all my life since I had heard about them from various relatives. As well, I have traced their lives from a genealogical standpoint basically from birth to slavery to their deaths. I pretty much know when they laughed, when they cried, and when they got on their knees and praised God through the miracle of genealogy records.

It is so nice to actually see the people that I have spent so much time researching and writing about.

They are included below on the 1880 census. Also, listed the this Census page are other relatives, Lewis and Syntrilla Lejay and his parents Edwin and Mary Lejay but the census taker wrote their surname "Legere."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 celebrates Black History Month

The website "" is a wonderful site for learning about the history, contributions and journeys of Black men and women in America. In honor of Black History month, they are featuring an abundance of stories on noteable African Americans as well as some who are less known.

The site also features full-length videos on a variety of subjects and individuals.

This is a MUST visit site for anyone wanting to learn about more about the African American struggle and culture.

You can assess this website on the following link or click on the link on the right sidebar of this site:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 Inauguration of President Barack Obama

On January 17,2009, I took a plane to Norfolk, Virginia to visit my niece and her family. The visit was very enjoyable. I had not seen them in a while so it a joyous occasion.

From there, on January 19, 2009, I set off for Washington, D.C. to bear witness to one of the most historic events in American History, the Inauguration of the first African American President, Barack Hussein Obama.

I had the privilege of attending the event, courtesy of California Congressman, Dan Lungren from whom I received a formal invitation and ticket. I visited his Washington, D.C. office on January 19th, and although he was not there, his staff members were very gracious and gave me the grand tour of the place. He has a very nice office which is filled with historical documents. Below are some photographs.

On January 20, 2009, I arose at the wee hour of 3 a.m. I got dressed and headed from my hotel in Camp Springs, Maryland which is about 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. to the Metro station which opened at 4 am. I was on the first train out of the station with my commemorative Barack Obama metro ticket. See below.

I journeyed with hundreds of other passengers down the train tracks to history. I disembarked from the train to the Federal Center Southwest Station which by the the time of our arrival was very crowded. I made my way through the crowd out of the station and on the sidewalk en route to the Capital.

The streets were already filled with a lot of people and police and other security personnel. We were directed to line up and wait for the opening of the gates to the Capital.

We waited in the cold. I am told that it was about 20 degrees at the time. However, I could not feel it. I'm not sure whether it is because of the 5 sweaters, 2 socks, 2 stockings and fur coat or the adrenaline from the anticipation of what I was about to partake in but I did not feel cold.

The time flew by fast. At 7:45, the gates opened and security personnel arrived to screen guests. We presented our tickets and were directed to the ticketed standing area.

Before we knew it, the ceremony began. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. It was simply magical. I soaked in and savored every moment of it.

The swearing in of President Barack Hussein Obama was the most pungent. As he was sworn in, my mind was flooded with thoughts and images of the struggles of African Americans, some relatives throughout time. It brought tears to my eyes and caused me to look to the heavens and thank God with all my heart and soul. I felt humbled by God's grace.

God has truly brought us from a mighty long way, as a nation of people. I will treasure that day for as long as I live.

I pray that God gives President Barack Obama the ability to lead this nation back to prosperity.

My formal invitation (Click to view):

Inauguration Program:

Inside of Inauguration Program:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Trans-atlantic Slave Trade Database

For those of you who do research with the Latter Day Saints, they have a new database that you can research on the Afican slave trade.

The site's goal is to offer researchers a chance to rediscover the reality of one of the largest forced movements of peoples in world history.

You can search the Voyages Database to look for particular voyages in this database of documented slaving expeditions. You can create listings, tables, charts, and maps using information from the database.

There is another database called the "Examine Estimates of the Slave Trade Slaves" which contains documented voyages in which you can use the interactive estimates page to analyze the full volume and multiple routes of the slave trade.

You can also explore the African Names Database to identify over 67,000 Africans aboard slave ships, using name, age, gender, origin, and place of embarkation.

I have just begun exploring the site but it looks really useful. You can search the site by going to or assess at a LDS Library.