Tag Archives: African American Research

Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part Two

Continuing  with the ancestry of actor Billy Porter, the story of note I found in the actor’s maternal ancestry was more immediate and quite tragic. Porter’s mother Cloerinda Jean (Johnson) (Porter) Ford was the daughter of James and Martha (Richardson) Johnson, and granddaughter of Thomas H. and Mary (Hines) Richardson. Thomas H. Richardson (1889-1923), a native of Cumberland County, Virginia, moved to Pittsburgh by 1910. Thomas and Mary had three children, and Thomas worked as a packer in a steel mill and as a plasterer. Thomas died young, at thirty-three, on 26 May 1923. However, the cause of death on his death certificate prompted me look at his life further – “Shock Hemorrhage following Gun Shot Wound Through right Breast.” Continue reading Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part Two

Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part One

One of my favorite shows of the last few years has been the FX Original Pose, chronicling the lives of LGBTQ people of color in the ballroom culture of New York City during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s. With its amazing cast of talented actors, one of my favorite characters was Pray Tell, portrayed by the actor Billy Porter, who is known for his earlier work in Kinky Boots and more recently as the fabulous godmother in a remake of Cinderella. With Pose ending its season earlier this year, and Porter releasing his memoir Unprotected this month, I decided to explore the actor’s ancestry and found two very different stories, certainly representative of the variety of the African American experience over the centuries. Continue reading Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part One

Civil War soldiers of Mashpee

My recent post on the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment also touched upon the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and a recent book I had read – Thunder at the Gates – about the black regiments of Massachusetts that served in the Civil War. Another genealogical connection to these regiments concerned Civil War soldiers from Mashpee, Massachusetts treated in recent articles in the Mayflower Descendant. Continue reading Civil War soldiers of Mashpee

The 29th Connecticut

Last Memorial Day, after writing a post on my great-great-great-uncle John Merrick Paine of Woodstock, Connecticut, a lieutenant in the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment, I became interested in researching other soldiers in this regiment also from northeastern Connecticut. Several of them were from families I had researched previously, with one surprising connection to a colleague here at NEHGS. Continue reading The 29th Connecticut

Slave surnames

Eyre Crowe, “Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Surnames of formerly enslaved people can add a lot of confusion when trying to piece together families. Many enslaved individuals were denied an official surname prior to emancipation, and the adoption of surnames following freedom did not follow any prescribed method. In some cases, the surname of the former slave owner was either adopted by choice or assigned to them in the first records in which they appear as free individuals. Continue reading Slave surnames

The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

King George I of the Hellenes. Carte de visite by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri; Scott C. Steward collection

To mark the second birthday of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and with the imminent birth of his younger sister, Christopher C. Child and I have continued our (occasional!) series on Archie’s ancestry. The first segment, covering parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, appears here.

This generation of great-great-great-grandparents includes the origins of the surnames Mountbatten and Windsor. The name Mountbatten derives from Archie’s father’s father’s father’s mother’s father, the 1st Marquess of Milford Haven; the name Windsor — also the house name of the current British Royal Family — comes via Archie’s father’s father’s mother’s paternal grandfather, King George V. Just over 100 years after the Princes of Battenberg became Mountbattens and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha adopted (in England) the surname Windsor, a descendant bears both names, marking the 1947 marriage of Lord Milford Haven’s grandson Philip to King George’s granddaughter Elizabeth. Continue reading The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

‘Even birds want to be free’

This photograph shows Hiram Overton (ca. 1835-1911) and his wife, Evelyn Overton (1841-1917), my great-great-great-grandparents. We opened Black History Month at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology with a call to share personal stories highlighting our family connections to the African-American heritage we celebrate for these 28 days. I’m joining in the effort by sharing and honoring the story of Hiram and Evelyn Overton. Together they are the foundations of my maternal lineage, lovers of kin and country, survivors of slavery and institutional racism, keepers of the flame and inspiring #BlackEntrepreneurs. Continue reading ‘Even birds want to be free’

Mayors of Boston

With Boston mayor Marty Walsh expected to be confirmed as United States Secretary of Labor, our city will have a new acting mayor with our city council president Kim Janey, who will be the first female and African-American to serve in this position (acting or otherwise). This prompted me to look at her ancestry, as well as all mayors of Boston since the position was created in 1822. Boston counts 54 mayoral administrations between 46 men. (Six mayors served non-consecutive terms; this number includes five who served two terms. James Michael Curley served four non-consecutive terms, including a portion of his last term in prison.) Continue reading Mayors of Boston

Black families of Great Barrington

Reading Rufus Jones’s recent post discussing buying the home of James Weldon Johnson in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, reminded me of past research I had done on two other prominent African Americans with genealogical connections to that town. The first was the well-known historian and civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt [known as W.E.B.] Du Bois (1868-1963), who was born and raised in Great Barrington. I minored in African-American/African Studies in college (although I took enough courses for a double major had that been offered), and read several works by Du Bois. One of my college professors from Ghana had written a book on his country’s revolutionary leader Kwame Nkrumah, who invited Du Bois to Ghana in what ended up being the latter’s last few years of life writing the Encyclopedia Africana.[1] Continue reading Black families of Great Barrington

“Along this way”

James Weldon Johnson at his writing cabin in western Massachusetts. Courtesy Yale Beinecke Library James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

In 2000, I was asked to co-produce the James Weldon Johnson Medal ceremony under the guidance and leadership of the late Dr. Sondra Kathryn Wilson at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. My wife, Jill Rosenberg Jones – the other producer – was my intended wife during that summer of 2000, and she was passionate about James Weldon Johnson – and because I intended to marry her, I thought it made sense for me to be passionate about James Weldon Johnson, too. Fast forward to June 2016, when we established the James Weldon Johnson Foundation to honor Johnson’s life through historic preservation and educational, intellectual, and artistic works that reflect the contemporary world and exemplify his enduring contributions to American history and worldwide culture. Continue reading “Along this way”