Ancestors of J. Michelle Childs

I’ve gotten a handful of messages recently asking if I have any relationship to U.S. District Judge Julianna Michelle Childs, who is among those President Joe Biden is considering for nomination to the United States Supreme Court. I’ll point out first that her surname is Childs and not Child, but I noted recently how adding an s to my surname was not entirely uncommon. Are we related? Probably not, but I traced her African American Childs/Chiles ancestry nonetheless!

I was able to trace Judge Childs’ patrilineal ancestry back seven generations to Willis and Ann(a) (Johnson) Chiles, who are enumerated in the 1870 census in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky, aged 70 and 53. As Kentucky was a slave state until the end of the Civil War, the first two generations below were likely still enslaved until 1865, and are not found in the 1860 Census.

The earliest generations also use the spelling of Chiles, although I could not find any slaveowners with the surname Chiles or Childs in Franklin County in the 1850 and 1860 federal census slave schedules. If the Chiles surname was a result of Willis or his ancestors being owned by a family of the surname, the likely white family would probably be descendants of Lt. Col. Walter Chiles (d. 1653), an early Virginia merchant who was the 8th Speaker of the House of Burgesses (and not my ancestor).

Of note are three generations in Judge Childs’ ancestry served in three major American wars from the Civil War through World War II. The lineage below should be considered preliminary, as other records may lead to corrections or additions, and perhaps inspire other readers to trace additional portions of the judge’s ancestry.

1. Willis Chiles was born in Kentucky ca. 1800 and living in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1870. He married Ann(a) Johnson.[1]

2. Edward Chiles/Charles was born in Franklin County, Kentucky 22 April 1847 and died at Frankfort 13 December 1918. During the Civil War, Edward served in Company G of the 119th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry; he was granted a federal pension for his service. He married Mattie Penn (who was probably a second wife and not the mother of Edward).[2]

3. Edward Chiles/Childs, Jr. was born in Kentucky 20 December 1880 and living at Frankfort in 1930. He married Mary Elizabeth Brown.[3]

4. Alfred Childs was born at Frankfort 25 January 1902 and died at Louisville, Kentucky 12 October 1999. He married Louise Z. Weathers. Alfred worked as a porter for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, and served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.[4]

5. Ralph Bethel Childs was born at Louisville 8 December 1926 and died 21 February 2003; he was buried at Campground Church Cemetery in Woodlawn, Nelson County, Kentucky. He married Helen Carter. Ralph served as a steward’s mate first class for the U.S. Navy during World War II.[5]

6. Ralph Bethel Childs, Jr. was born at Detroit, Michigan 16 March 1948 and died there 25 August 1980. He married Shandra Yvonne Green.[6]

7. Julianna Michelle Childs was born at Detroit 24 March 1966. She married Floyd Angus.[7]


[1] 1870 U.S. Census; Death Certificate of their son Edward Chiles.

[2] 1900 U.S. Census; 1918 Death Certificate of Edward Chiles; U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940; U.S. Civil War Pension Index; U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865.

[3] 1910, 1920, and 1930 U.S. Census; World War I Draft Registration Card; Death Certificate of their son Joseph Miles Childs.

[4] 1910 and 1920 U.S. Census; World War II Draft Card; “Alfred ‘Britches’ Childs,” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Ky.], 14 October 1999, p. 9; “Louise Z. Reid,” The Courier-Journal, 7 August 1996, p. 14. Like his son Ralph, Alfred has several records with a variable birth date: 1900, instead of 1902 (this might be due to their age when they joined the military).

[5] 1930 and 1940 Census; Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 ; Gravestone. After his first marriage (at age 17) in 1944, Ralph largely gave his year of birth as 1924 instead of 1926, and listed his birthplace as Rome, Georgia instead of Louisville (such as in his 1945 World War II Draft Card).

[6] Michigan, U.S., Death Index, 1971-1996; Obituary abstract from findagrave; Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007; “Green 50th,” Detroit Free Press, 5 October 1997, p. 60 (golden anniversary of Shandra’s parents).

[7] Wikipedia biography for J. Michelle Childs; “Child-Angus,” The State [Columbia, S.C.], 12 May 2002, p. 61.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child