My Story

KarenBW

Everyone has a story.

Mine started at our dinner table when I was a little girl listening to my father’s fascinating and never-ending repertoire of family tales. He told us about growing up during the Great Depression. He shared how his father worked at Ford Motor Company making Model Ts after his parents migrated from the South to Detroit to escape the gut-wrenching existence of sharecropping in Jim Crow Georgia. And he told us about his great-grandmother, Charity Ann who had been a slave.

In his engaging way, my dad shared stories of my family’s long-standing ability to make it through the hard times. Looking back, I realize that was my father’s way of reminding us that we come from survivors - the ones who kept going when the going got tough, as the old folks used to say.

Dad’s stories always left me wanting to know more, but it would be years before I began searching in earnest for my family’s roots. That defining moment came as the result of a New Year’s resolution in 1976. I was finally ready to begin the climb up what I call “story mountain”.

Since this was way before the Internet, I headed to my local library, checked out a book on genealogy, and read it cover to cover.

Twice.

I learned that you should talk with your oldest relative first, which prompted a call to great Aunt Clara in Cleveland. Aunt Clara was a feisty 81 years old at the time and proud, self-professed historian on my mother’s side. It still makes me giggle when I think of how thrilled she was to regale me with her special blend of facts, story and flat out family legend.

That was the beginning of my lifelong passion for genealogy. With enough clues from Aunt Clara to get me going, I did my initial deep dive into family research. Within 10 months, I stumbled on William Hood, an ancestor who fought at a little fort in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution. Trust me - I wasn’t expecting to find anyone from those times. I still wonder who was more surprised about this discovery - William Hood or me!

Through William Hood’s military service, I was eligible for National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I applied in 1977 and became the first known African American woman to be admitted for membership. You can learn more about my path to DAR here

Since then, I’ve been “hot on the trail” of long dead, but not forgotten ancestors. They include:

  • A British immigrant grandfather
  • Georgia slaves AND slave-owners
  • Union and Confederate soldiers
  • Puritans
  • Pennsylvania Dutch pioneers
  • More Revolutionary War patriots
  • First settlers of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine, and
  • A colonial witch or two.

Because of my ancestry, I’m proud to claim a rich and diverse heritage that dates back to 1630 - thirteen generations of my family in America.

At first, I relished the discovery of each little fact I could add to my family tree. The more I researched, though, the more I realized that just adding names, dates and places wasn’t my end game. I wanted my ancestors’ stories - that blend of genealogy “data” combined with the historical and cultural timelines to capture as much as I could about how they lived.

This story-based approach to my own history has resulted in a legacy of inspirational stories of strong men and women. It also led me to start Story Mountain LLC, where my mission is to support others in genealogy research and the discovery of defining family stories of strength and resilience.

AFFILIATIONS

  • National Vice Chair Lineage Research, DAR
  • Member, Ezra Parker Chapter DAR; Associate Member, Presidio Chapter DAR and Louisa St. Clair Chapter DAR
  • Genealogy Consultant DAR
  • Member, National Society of Women Descendants of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery
  • Member, Associated Daughters of Early American Witches
  • Member, The Winthrop Society
  • Member, State Bar of Michigan
  • Member, Association of Professional Genealogists
  • Certified Birren Institute Guided Autobiography Instructor
  • Member, National Society New England Women
  • Member, National Society Daughters of Colonial Wars

Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.

— Studs Terkel